1950 born in Budapest
Fancsiko and Pinta
1968 finishes secondary school at the Budapesti Piarista Gimnázium
1969-74 studies mathematics at the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
1974 first writings published in various literary journals
1974-78 works as a mathematician in the Informatics Institute of the Ministry of Furnaces and Heavy Machinery
1977 first volume award of the Artists' Fund
1978 becomes a freelance writer
1980 Medal of the Mikes Kelemen Circle (The Netherlands)
1981 Aszú Prize of the Mozgó Világ literary journal
1981 member of the German Academy of Poetry
1983 Füst Milán Award
1984 Déry Tibor Award
1986 József Attila Prize
1986 Örley Prize [with Nádas Péter]
1988 Vilenica Prize (Slovenia)
1990 Book of the Year Award
1990 Krúdy Gyula Prize
1992 Life-work Award of the Soros Foundation
1993 member of the Széchenyi Accademy of Literature and Arts
1993 Prize of the Literary Festival in Rome [Premio Opera di Poesia]
1993 Radio Play Award of the Hungarian Radio
1994 Free Press Prize
1994 Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
1995 Prize of the Soros Foundation
1995 Bjorson Prize (Norway)
1995 Prize of the Magyar Művészetért Foundation
1996 Kossuth Prize
1996 Szép Ernő Award
1996-97 fellowship from the Berliner Wissenshaftkolleg
1999 Man of the Year Prize (Magyar Hírlap)
1999 Austrian State Prize
2001 Hungarian Literature Prize
2004 Grinzane Cavour-Prize (Italy)
2004 Peace Prize pf the German Book Trade
2004 Pro Europa Prize
2006 Premio Letterario Internazionale Pablo Neruda
2008 Angelus-Prize (Wroclaw)
A cycle of experimental short stories about a child and his real and imaginary friends, showing Esterházy�s irony and passion for language.
A Novel of Production
A novel-as-parody subverting the dictatorial conventions of socialist realism; the book established Esterházy�s place as an acclaimed and immensely popular writer in Hungary.
"Esterházy�s formal experimentation has been the dominating feature of his work since the publication of A Novel of Production in 1979, and since then the stylistic diversity of his output has signalled a continuing and fundamental restlessness with the novel as a genre perhaps even with �text� tout court."
-Lawrence Norfolk, TLS July 18 1997
An Introduction to Literature
A collection of his earlier and new works, resulting in a monumental montage or "supra-novel" of text and typographical and pictorial elements. The main concern of the book is the ontology of the literary act�the way personal experience builds up to a public literary artifice.
The novel was published under the pseudonym Lili Csokonai; the diary of a young uneducated woman forms the narrative. Esterházy�s stylistic brilliance is most evident in his rendering of seventeenth-century language in a contemporary setting.
A Woman or She Loves Me
"There�s this woman. She hates me. Shadow. She calls me Shadow. For instance: so you�re here again, Shadow? she�ll ask, hanging about. At other times: it�s stuffed cabbage for lunch, Shadow, you mind? Or playfully I�m casting my Shadow before me, by which she means me, it�s a reference to me, and it�s supposed to mean that I�m asking for big trouble. However, this playful abandon does not necessarily mean she�s in high spirits, though when she is in high spirits, she sometimes hoots merrily: Shadow world! which, like it or not, is yet another reference to yours truly. On the other hand, when her spirits are low, when her older sister calls from Lubeck, for instance, or when she takes it into her head she�s gained too much weight, though I swear to high heaven that I could just die for every ounce of her living flesh, she�ll declare that I am the tree that keeps her from seeing the forest."(From: A Woman, or she Loves Me, translated by Judith Sollosy)
Harmonia Caelestis is the product of a decade of labour: a monumental, part-autobiographical family history. If Helping Verbs of the Heart was an homage to his mother, then this is a memorial to his father. It is actually two works in one. Book 1, �Numbered Sentences from the Life of the Esterházy Family�, comprises 371 paragraphs, some elusively succinct, others pages long, that amount to a gloriously kaleidoscopic romp through the centuries that lie behind this European dynasty. Not that the name Esterházy is ever uttered: the main protagonist of each episode is invariably identified as �my father�, whether he is an anti-Habsburg Kuruc insurrectionist or a Habsburg-loyal Labanc, a hammer of the Ottomans, a dying old man, a prisoner of war, a lord charming enough to enchant Goethe himself, or a childless man, to mention but a few of �my fathers�, all evoked through the language and literature proper to each persona. This strategy of anonymity allows Esterházy to extend his typically vast net of quotations to sources that originally have no family connotations whatsoever, thereby lending broader significance to the particulars of this one family, however grand, and, vice versa, appropriating the general (European) experience to the family�s specific circumstances. The baroquely exuberant proliferation of anecdotal gleanings and fragments of real and fictional history, drawing on a gamut of written genres, from maxims to parables, from confessional autobiography to the account books and chronicles, is ultimately threaded together by an unobtrusive, profoundly witty and wise philosophical vein.
Book 2, subtitled �Confessions of an Esterházy family�, is ostensibly a more conventional family novel. Its very subtitle alludes to an earlier Hungarian masterpiece of the genre, Confessions of a Bourgeois, 1934-35 by Sándor Márai. It consists of a series of snapshots of key events in the lives of the author�s great-grandfather, grandfather, father and the young Esterházy himself. These are built up, over two hundred numbered passages, into a more or less chronological portrait of a century-and-a-half of steady decline of the family�s fortunes. After 1945 the Esterházys suffered an almost catastrophic repeat of the confiscations and curtailment of liberties that befell them during the short-lived Commune of 1919�one that not only stripped them of their former rank and privileges but threatened their very subsistence. Largely anecdotal and often absurd in tone, much of this is recounted with great gusto from the author�s personal perspective, not least the stories of his own childhood, such as being accidentally dropped into the baptismal font; the trek to a godforsaken village in July 1950 when an official deportation order resulted in the family being dumped in one of two rooms in a peasant couple�s house; schooldays and trips to matches with his football-mad father. For all the vicissitudes and uncertainties it describes, the tone of the writing throughout is one of blithely upbeat humour and harmony, without a hint of reproach, regret or complaint.
�A captivatingly rich novel in terms of both its form and its stance. Certainly it is the most striking work of the fifty-year-old author�s career to date, and I would even
venture to call it an epitome of the Esterházy oeuvre. Given its formal richness, however, it is in a way also a compendium of two to three centuries of Hungarian
-Péter Dérczy, Élet és Irodalom
�This new novel is no less constructed of fragments than his earlier novels, and those are no less whole, but this has the widest span of any Esterházy composition to date: it is a sweeping, baroque work.�
-József Tamás Reményi, Népszabadság
- appendix to Harmonia caelestis -
In late January 2000 Péter Esterházy finished his masterpiece, Harmonia
caelestis, the all-pervading father-figure of which sustains a reading as a novel
about his own father in particular. The author�s grandfather, Count Móric
Esterházy, head of the junior branch of the princely Esterházy family, was briefly
prime minister of Hungary in 1917, but both he and son Mátyás, the author�s father,
stayed on in Hungary after the 1948 Communist takeover out of loyalty to the
A few days later, on 28th January, he learnt that from 1957 until 1980 his
father had operated as an informer for the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior�s
Section III/III, the secret police of the Kádár era. As is now the right of any
Hungarian citizen, the author had, a few months before, submitted a request to the
Historical Office, the custodian of that régime�s confidential files, to dig up any
material it might have relating to his family, supposing this might turn up something
interesting with regard to how he personally was being watched as a young man. Instead, he got the shock of his life.
Esterházy started writing Revised Edition on 30th January 2000, and completed the manuscript in April 2002. It is a work that runs on two principal levels. First, the
frame is provided by a diary that he kept between 30th January and 13th June
2000, which is supplemented and intercalated with various parenthesized remarks
that were added as he worked through successive revisions of the manuscript. In
between these diary entries, at another level, are extracts from the reports that
Mátyás Esterházy, under the cover-name �Csanádi�, wrote to his various handlers
about his family, friends and acquaintances. One may surmise that it was indeed
over his family, the futures of his four sons in particular, the very linchpin of his life,
that he was blackmailed into doing what he did. The reports that the son copied out
from the bulky dossiers in the Historical Office�highlighted by being set in brown
ink�concern triflingly unimportant matters to the modern eye. What profoundly
distresses the son is the simple fact that the father was an informer for the régime,
and this book is his attempt to assimilate that well-nigh unassimilable circumstance,
striving to rethink certain passages of his by then published Harmonia caelestis in
light of the new situation.
There was a time when neither the author nor his Hungarian reading public would
have seen this story as anything but a fiction, yet it is the literal truth, and its revelation has been the catalyst for much heart-searching. And the whole business of the country�s past informers did not leave the front pages of the newspapers after the book�s publication in the early summer 2002, just after voting finished in Hungary�s general elections, as all the major political parties vied to keep track of compromising past links of public figures in rival parties.
�A novelistic documentary or diary, composed with all the intricacy of his previous
works, with interlocking textual levels, veiled and unveiled quotations [and] �guest�
texts." Endre Bojtár, Élet és Irodalom
�Péter Esterházy has written the most heart-rending book of recent times."
Rubens and the Non-Euclidean Ladies
Sándor Radnóti, Népszabadság
This is the third volume of pieces for the stage�after Daisy (1984) and Búcsúszimfónia (Farewell Symphony, 1994)�that this distinguished writer has published. It contains three works that might better be described as �drama-ettes�. The first two�Legyünk együtt gazdagok (Let�s Be Rich Together) and Affolter, Meyer, Beil�are Beckett-like in their terseness. Together with the one-act third that provides the volume�s title, they revolve around money, family and creativity, and, together the three pieces form a trilogy, with the first two acting as preludes to the third. The whimsical Affolter, Meyer, Beil bears the subtitle �Don Juan, or the Happy Family� and was written in response to a request by Austrian dramaturg Hermann Beil. It was first presented in Salzburg, along with pieces by Peter Handke, Elfriede Jelinek and George Tabori, as part of a soirée in the Great Hall of the Salzburg Mozarteum in May 2005. Let�s Be Rich was written for the Munich Kammerspiele. The title piece is a writer�s confession, an ars poetica, which evokes an artistic and, indeed, theological dispute about creation and transcendence. (It was written for the Rhineland Triennale and premiered there in September 2006). It revolves around the death of Rubens, when the painter, having brimmed with life which he captured in his full-blooded paintings, is dismayed to realise that death has left him less than whole and he has to face up to Gödel�a 17th-century Flemish artist confronting a 20th-century Austrian mathematician�who asserts that human dignity resides in being able to acknowledge one�s finiteness. But can any art exist without a demand for the whole, for totality? It�s a good question, but to quote Bacchus, one of the characters in the play: �Is there any question at all to which we get an answer? Or is it just the usual: all we get in response are further questions?�
�Everything is here: art�s haughty omnipotence competes with science�s humility, there is desire and physical suffering, though Rubens�even as he lives and speaks to us�has long been dead.�
-Ferenc Takács, Népszabadság
�It is precisely the lightness of touch�an old Esterházy trick�that is deceptive.�
-András Forgách, Élet és Irodalom
Journey to the Depths of the Sixteen-Metre Line
Esterházy wrote this at the request of Berlin Verlag, his publisher in Germany, where it appeared in translation back in February 2006. The plot has the publisher asking the writer to think back to his football experiences of yore, to travel to all the locations in Germany that he had ever been to, and, to mark this year�s World Cup, to write a football book of his own.
As a young man, Esterházy was an officially registered player for the Csillaghegy Working Men�s Gymnastic Club in Budapest, while the youngest of his three brothers, Márton, made quite a respectable career in the game (he played for Hungarian First Division teams Ferencváros and Honvéd, the national side and AEK Athens).
Now feeling his years, the author (who was a footballer before he was a writer) uses football to evoke his childhood and youth in era of Kádár�s �soft� communism, girls from East Germany and German unification. He also discusses the characters of the Hungarian and German nations, including whether there are such entities, and in passing he also has words to say about stewed tripe and the Hungarian terms for various kinds of spritzers. Meanwhile he recalls some of the great chapters in football history, most particularly the glory days of Hungary�s �Golden Team� of the Fifties. In the end, however, through the groans of an ageing footballer it is not the game that he speaks about, or not just the game, but, through collective memories of football, about the passing of youth, glory, the good and the bad, the experience of his own life. He draws parallels between the mastery of football skills and the mastery of writing skills, frequently going from the one to the other. He also quotes the football references that are to be found in his earlier works, from A Novel of Production to Helping Verbs of the Heart (English translation 1992), and the text incorporates many of the pieces about football that he wrote for newspapers over the three decades.
�Journey�s great secret is its almost inexhaustible richness of content.�
-István Csuhai, Élet és Irodalom
�P.E. has written the first work of his old age�a novel of memory in miniature.�
-József Tamás Reményi, Népszabadság
Péter Esterházy, in one of his many brilliant witticisms, said years ago that he preferred to think in terms of subject and predicate, rather than people and nation. One might add: and also in terms of fathers and mothers. That allows one to separate out quite distinctive mother and father tongues—or rather books about the father (Celestial Harmonies and Revised Edition) and the mother—within his oeuvre.
No Sweat represents the resurrection of the mother figure who was laid to rest in Helping Verbs of the Heart, the work that first appeared in 1985 (the English translation was published in 1992), to drop her with a deft looping pass —to draw on one of the soccer metaphors in which the book abounds—into this new tale. Here, to clarify, Esterházy pairs the motif of the mother with the topos of football that for the narrator supplies a meaning and rationale for practically everything in the world. As a result, No Sweat is also a rethinking or refinement of other earlier writings, notably the miscellany of pieces that make up Journey to the Depths of the Penalty Area, published to mark the 2006 World Cup.
No Sweat knits together into a novel strings of marvellous anecdotes (including curious family collaterals and right backs in the Star Hill team, for which Esterházy used to play football), “recollections” that keep bubbling up (the mother and Ferenc Puskás, the world famous centre forward of Hungary’s world-famous “Golden Team” of the early Fifties), and other recurrent motifs (references that are borrowed—usually in a startling context, in typically Esterházy fashion—both from his own and other authors’ writings). Or if not a regular novel, then at least a novelistic and most certainly highly readable book. It matters little that Esterházy is ostensibly writing some things for the nth time; as he himself repeatedly notes, he is rather like those gentleman footballers who can be relied on to signal when they know they are offside, but the game is still waved on. Especially when the re(f)ader is taking pleasure in it.
It is also typical of Esterházy that he should constantly mull over the mode and manner in which the story emerges and over the status of intertextual quotations that are corralled. And then there is, above all, the language (whether mother’s or father’s tongue). Which carries its usual composite role as both perennial playmaker and pulled-back striker.
Just who is this “Esti” who is the title character and protagonist of Péter Esterházy’s newest book, er, “novel”?
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Kornél Esti is the counterpart, artistic alter ego, and nighttime edition of one of Hungary’s greatest twentieth-century writers, Dezső Kosztolányi. (Note: the Hungarian word esti means “of the night.”) The narrator-protagonist of dozens of Kosztolányi’s stories and several of his story collections, this figure so iconic to Hungarian literature is ever on the go as a writer and journalist. He is typically found somewhere on the road between various European cities, amid his own memories, and among stories that he either imagines or that he really does experience. Kornél Esti is vain; he is ever in search of mirrors. More precisely, it is Dezső Kosztolányi who peers into the mirror, and Kornél Esti who looks back at us. Kornél Esti is terribly in love with life, with being in love, and with scrumptious fare. He is so afraid of death that he treads constantly in its steps. He awaits it with curiosity, poking his nose with yearning into its almost lifelike abyss. Kornél Esti is in love with languages—constantly interpreting, translating, and explaining; perhaps this, too, is why he is able to stay silent when necessary. Esti is the other who lives in us all: a forgotten and silenced soul, an eternal child with the wisdom of an old man. As a title, Kornél Esti is also a trademark: a Hungarian synonym for a well-proportioned, perfectly sketched-out, simply masterful story.
As for Péter Esterházy’s Esti, it is under this title that he has brought together a wealth of short prose, feuilletons, short stories, and textual “etudes” that he has systematically written in recent years. This brilliantly executed collage of language is held together by the volume’s “editor,” its towering literary figure—namely, the epic authoritativeness of Kornél Esti.
Esti, if you like, is a helping verb for Esterházy, or more to the point, a magical attributive. His presence and consent, after all, allows you to write about anything and everything: life, death, the arts, Hungarian politics, history, family, friends, the writing process, the impulse for verbal reflection, and a writer’s creative crises. In this book we meet with as many genres and speech situations as there exist. The author plays, varies, quotes, and substitutes with well-honed, effortless flippancy. He switches, turns, and constantly pulls yet newer “Esti cards” from his secret pocket.
But this is but one side of Esti. The fluid, flowing finger-work is interrupted around the middle of the book. The well-tuned (Wohltemperiertes) literary piano falls silent. Esti’s nighttime sides ensue. Deadly serious matters: death, mourning. Indeed, the volume’s most beautiful piece is an obituary Esterházy wrote on the death of the great Hungarian viticulturist Mihály Figula. “What does a sentence conceal when it happens to discover or describe something?” asks Esterházy, without, however, serving up the smart answer we’d expect of him. Instead there remains an absence: the presence of the dead. As for the last expression on the face of his fellow writer, the late István Eörsi, Esterházy writes that it was “that of someone who has glimpsed something they shouldn’t have.” The spurt of dashes that follows represents an utter lack of thought: the sanctity and the necessity of silence. Whitewashed dashes. The cold silence of churches. To write so loquaciously about silences is an extraordinary achievement. And this is the point where Esti ceases to be mere finger-work, but becomes, quite simply, a new work—the renewal of an oeuvre that knows its own facilities and fortes precisely indeed.