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Aladár KUNCZ
( 1886 - 1931 )


1886 born in Arad; schooling in Kolozsvár (now Romania)
studies at Budapest University, majors in Latin, Hungarian and Greek; member of the Eötvös College
1909 teacher in Budapest; spends some time in Paris
1914 is in France when the War breaks out; spends five years in prison camps (Noirmourier, Ile d’Yeu)
1923 moves back to Kolozsvár and becomes a leading figure of the Hungarian community
1923 Editor of the literary pages of the journal Ellenzék (Opposition)
1929 Editor of the leading cultural paper Erdélyi Helikon (Transilvanian Helicon)
1931 dies in Budapest

Black Monastery

Fekete kolostor (Black Monastery), 1931 "Aladár Kuncz was a young men of twenty eight when the war broke out; he was a writer by vocation and a teacher by profession, and a great enthusiast of life (...). When he gets the news of the mobilization he tries to flee from the chaos and go home (...). Then he was forced to spend five years in prison camps, dungeons and the oubliette of an island, under sadistic or indifferent officers, among Hungarian, Austrian and German civilian prisoners, among nice and disgusting, refined and rude men, among the ill and the dying, the killers and the raving lunatics.” (Dezső Kosztolányi) The novel, which became a huge success among readers just in the dying writer’s last hours, was published in English in New York (Harcourt and Brace) in 1934, translated by Ralph Murray. Hungarian critics have always had a high opinion of the novel, which is, though much less brutal and painful in its story, a kind of predecessor of the other great book of captivity in Hungarian literature, Fateless by Imre Kertész. “This book (…) is perhaps one of the great narratives of captivity in any language. It is the story, told with a profusion of minute details, of all those fellow-internees – schoolmasters, lawyers, engineers, cabinet-makers, philosophers, waiters, and sons of rich business men – who shared Kuncz’s fate during those long bleak years. The French officials were only tyrannical in petty ways; no spectacular cruelty was committed – it was only the endless, stifling boredom and discomfort which reduced the internees to a faceless crowd, some showing signs of unsuspected spiritual strength, some yielding and losing their sense of reality. Kuncz’s main virtue as a writer is his uncompromising honesty, his sober judgement, and his impassioned recording of the process of the complete rearrangement of values among the prisoners whose closed society turned around the everyday occurrences of intrigues, deaths, homosexual affairs, lice, latrines, or the meaninglessness of everything: (…) a record of lost souls in a cosmic nightmare.” (Lóránt Czigány)

Cloud above the City

Felleg a város felett (Cloud above the City), 1931 The novel was written in Kolozsvár as the first part of an intended trilogy, but the writer failed to finish it because of his illness and early death, which must have been caused by the years spent in the miasmatic air of the Black monastery. The uninhibited and egotistic hero shows some resemblance to the early period of the writer Dezső Szabó, a strange character in Hungarian literature. The novel, which was published only after the death of the author, did not come up to the expectations of the readers, and even the critics of the most influential literary monthly Nyugat (West) were somewhat sceptical of the result. The wife of Mihály Babits, the writer Sophie Török wrote: „The novel Cloud above the City was written much earlier and perhaps the writer had no intention of publishing it in his lifetime. It would be a great loss, however, if we never read it, because we can recognize the characteristic voice of the dear departed author on almost every page. Nevertheless, the novel is not a flawless work of art, and it does not offer unadulterated joy for the reader: its story is romantic in a Jókai-like, old-fashioned manner, full of startling episodes and naïve complications. In the case of Aladár Kuncz one could easily believe that the poet is possessed by unknown superior powers, and he is not the master of the text but only a humble servant conveying a message. What other reason could explain, we wonder, the fact that the man who could walk the tightrope above the terrible depths of the human soul with the blind assurance of a somnambulist, could easily be mislead by the naïve labyrinth of simple middle-class souls?”

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