Author's page

István FEKETE
( 1900 - 1970 )

Biography

1900 born in Gölle
1917-1926 military service, becomes reservist officer
1923-1926 studies at the Academy of Agriculture in Debrecen and at the University of Magyaróvár
1926 starts working as a farm attendant at Bakóca
1929 gets married; starts working as farm manager at Ajka
1937 he receives first prize for his first novel at the competition of the Géza Gárdonyi Society
1940 member of the Kisfaludy Society
1945-49 works for the Ministry of Agriculture
1949 sent to retirement
1951 teaches Biology at the Fishery School in Kunszentmárton
1955 retires
1970 dies in Budapest


Major prizes
1960 Attila József Prize

The Testament of the Turkish Ruler of Koppány
1937

István Fekete is considered the greatest Hungarian children’s writer of the twentieth century. A farmer who hunted and found himself at one with nature, Fekete produced a series of children’s novels which are regarded as classics and are compulsory reading in most Hungarian schools. At the same time, the richness of his style, the precise beauty of his descriptions of nature and the ingenuity with which he depicts the lives of animals and the people of small Hungarian villages make him a favourite of many grown-ups as well. His career began with the historical novel A koppányi aga testamentuma (The Testament of the Turkish Ruler of Koppány, ), essentially a romantic novel about an orphaned Hungarian soldier who in a duel slays the Turkish ruler of Koppány, the killer of his father, and as a dying wish is entrusted with the care of the Turk’s young daughter. The book was written for a novel competition sponsored by a magazine, and when it won first prize, István Fekete suddenly found himself an acknowledged writer. In his next four novels he explored further historical possibilities: Zsellérek (1940, Tenants), about a farmer family; Hajnal Badányban (1942, Dawn at Badány) depicting the life of a miller, and the forbidden love blossoming between his apprentice and his daughter. Emberek közt (1944, Among People) and Gyeplő nélkül (1947, Without Reins) are two less successful works, about the life of the village farmers.

Vuk the Fox
1940

István Fekete s most successful books are his animal novels, written between 1940 and 1966. The first, Csí the Swallow (1940), is a novellette about a swallow, told in parallel with the sad story of a mother. It was followed by the story of Kele the Stork (1955), a wounded stork spending winter in the village. Lutra the Otter (1955) depicts the life of an old and experienced otter, who prowls the river for many years, eluding both the fishermen and the hunters reigning in his water-kingdom and sometimes wreaking havoc among the fowls of the village. Thistle the Dog (1957) represents the long and eventful journey of a stolen dog, finally reunited with his dear old master, the shepherd. In the last of the animal novels, Hú the Owl (1966), the writer tells the story of an owl. Stolen from his nest as a chick, Hú spends all his life in human custody and is used by men as a decoy for hunting crows. The book explores the theme of captivity and freedom, and though the bird is bound throughout the book, its wild spirit is not tamed. Among the animal stories, Vuk the Fox (first in 1940, 2nd ed. 1965) is the most popular, partly due to its adaptation to animation film by Attila Dargay. Vuk is a young orphaned fox, who, aided by the skilful tutelage of his cunning uncle Karak, grows to become the most courageous and clever of all foxes. As an adult, he is capable of challenging even the fox s most dreaded enemy, the smooth-skinned animal who goes about on two legs, the man; it was the man who killed Vuk s parents. Vuk helps his love, a young female fox, escape from the man s cage. The novel is a successful synthesis of the typical merits of István Fekete s prose: it is an animal story as well as a Bildungsroman, an adventure that takes place in a precisely depicted landscape, and the basic human values of freedom, courage and solidarity ring true due to the Fekete s refined humour and lively style.

Animal fiction
1940-66

Fekete’s first animal story was Csí (Csí the Swallow, 1940), an extended short story about a swallow and the sad story of a mother as a parallel. His first animal novel Kele (1955, Kele the Stork) about a wounded stork proved immensely successful and was soon followed by other major animal novels. Lutra (1955, Lutra the Otter) depicts the life of an old, shrewd otter, who prowls the river for many years, eluding both the fishermen and the hunters reigning in his water-kingdom and sometimes wreaking havoc among the fowl population of the village. Bogáncs (1957, Thistle the Dog) is somewhat melancholic in tone, telling the long and adventurous story of a shepherd’s dog, who is repeatedly stolen, and completes a long, roundabout journey to be reunited with the old shepherd. With Vuk (1965, Vuk the Fox) Fekete returns to the genre of animal novels. Vuk is a young orphaned fox, who, aided by the skilful tutelage of his cunning uncle Karak, grows into the most courageous and clever of all foxes, a legendary hunter capable of challenging even the fox’s most dreaded enemy, the smooth-skinned walker, man. In the last of his animal novels, Hú (1966, Hú the Owl), Fekete tells the story of an owl. Its nest raided in infancy, Hú spends all his life in human custody and is used by men as a decoy for hunting crows. The book explores the familiar theme of captivity and freedom, and though the bird is bound throughout the book, its spirit cannot be tamed.

Thorn Cottage
1957

1957 Thorn Cottage 1957 Tüskevár This popular novel written tells about the adventures of a summer vacation. Tutajos and his friend, Bütyök are two adolescent boys from the capital, who spend their holiday in the reeds at the marsh of Kis-Balaton. They discover the beauties and challenges of nature through their own experiences and with the help of the old fisherman, Gergely Matula. The scientifically precise description of nature is equalled by the refined and authentic representation of adolescence. Tutajos, who is inclined to overstate his achievements in the beginning, realizes within a few weeks how much more exciting reality is than his fantasies have ever been. The boys not only learn to love and respect nature but also to cope with it and to survive in the unusual situation. The uncertain soil and thick jungle of the marsh full of dangers as well as of experiences serves as an important and symbolic background to the maturing of the boys. Historical past is also present in the „thorn cottage” mentioned in the title, which is the ruins of a fortress from the Turkish era. The boys return to the site for Christmas holiday on the pages of the following novel, Grove in Winter (1959, Téli berek). Winter laws of the same landscape are thoroughly different so Kis-Balaton offers them a new opportunity for discovery. Their physical and psychological development can be followed not only in their relationship to nature, to each other or to Matula but also to two girls and two dogs who accompany them in the

The Slow Passage of Time
1970

Originally, István Fekete planned to write an autobiographical trilogy, the first volume of which was Silence (1965). However, he died shortly after finishing the second book, The Slow Passage of Time (1970), so the trilogy remained incomplete. (His collection of short stories, Roaming (1968) is also based on autobiographical experiences; still it cannot be regarded as part of the cycle partly because of its different genre, partly due to the fact that it depicts memories not from childhood but from adult years.) Fekete’s last book covers the years of his childhood spent in Gölle and then at school in Kaposvár. A nostalgic book full of funny anecdotes, it paints a complex picture of the history and of the life of a schoolteacher’s family living in a rural setting at the turn of the century. The book is most unforgettable for its loving still objective narration as well as its associations through which the elderly author recalls the memories of the most determinative period of his life up till the beginning of World War I.

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