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Biography

1950 born in Sopron
1970-75 studies Hungarian and English Literature at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
1975-82 works as a librarian
1982-86 reader for Helikon Publishing House
1986 to present freelance poet and translator
1988-89 spends a year in London on a poetry scholarship sponsored by the Soros Foundation
1990 guest of the International Writers' Program in Iowa
1994 guest of Poetry International

Zsuzsa Rakovszky is a poet, writer and literary translator born in Sopron in 1950. She lost her father at the age of two, who had earned a degree in law and who prior to the Second World War worked in administration, fi rst as a secretary to a lord lieutenant and later in a ministry, before becoming a company director and retiring aft er the war. Her mother was a typist who became a lecturer in finance. Her stepfather worked in a stockroom following the war. Upon completing high school in
Sopron, Rakovszky earned degrees as a Hungarian and English teacher in Budapest. In the late 1970s she worked as a librarian, and from 1982 to 1986 as an editor at a publishing house.
She is presently a freelance writer and translator. Rakovszky translates primarily English and American authors, including Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s poems and Stephenie Meyer’s novels, as well as works by Susan Sontag and Bruno Bettelheim. Her poems enjoyed instant critically acclaim, and her works has received many prestigious honors and have been rewarded with scholarships to the United States.

Her main prizes:
1980 Graves Prize, 1986, 1991 Tibor Déry Prize, 1988 Attila József Prize, 1989 Book of the Year Prize, 1992 Soros Oeuvre Prize, 1997 Laurel Wreath of the Hungarian Republic, 2003 Hungarian Literary Prize, Márai Prize

Voices. Selected and New Poems
1994

Voices. Selected and New Poems László Lator writes about Zsuzsa Rakovszky, “From the outset, it is the same, intent voice we hear. Her linguistic, syntactic or rhythmic forms masked as rough or fragmented, her stylistic amalgams moulded from disparate elements, her attention open to the great drama of existence in petty circumstances, have not changed in the least.” In the new cycle among these selections, sixteen characters tell their respective dramatic monologues; with the exception of the fallen dictator, they are characteristic players of a great city, and reveal familiar roles of life. Sometimes they evoke sympathy, sometimes they are pathetic, but their fragments of memory, their feelings and their experiences are always universal, and strike the reader with the power of clear and sharp observation.

One-Way Street. New Poems 1994–97
1994,1997

One-Way Street. New Poems 1994–97 The “one-way street” is the metaphor of time: Rakovszky’s new book attempts to capture time and death both physically and metaphysically; it examines the conscious mind. The sequence “About Time” is a confession about the relationship of the present and the past, about the dialectics of “it does not pass” and “it does not ever come back”, told in a tone both personal and at the same time universally true, as it does not spare the reader from facing “unwrinkled non-existence”. One might think of the philosophical and sensual layers of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, although Rakovszky’s intent and personal voice and the unity of her poetry in terms of language-metaphor-experience are unmistakable.

The Shadow of the Snake
2002

The Shadow of the Snake In this fictive autobiography, a 17th century Hungarian-German burgess from Sopron, Ursula Léhmann, recollects her twists of fate with passion and the graphic sensuality characteristic of Zsuzsa Rakovszky. Ursula describes how she lost her mother in the plague, how she became an unwed mother, then lost the baby, and how, after the death of her stepmother, her father forced her first to marry him, then to connive in his crime. Hungary of the Turkish conquest era provides the backdrop for the story, when Habsburg emperors, Ottoman sultans and Transylvanian princes pitted their forces against one another, while religious strife between Catholics and Protestants plagued Europe. But in the eye of this civilian chronicler, the great events are shadowed by the memory of violence, fanaticism, the fire of 1676 and the plague. The central motif of the title, the snake, is the apothecary s sign (it refers to the trade of Ursula s father), as much as it is a symbol of seduction and intrigue. Besides, a folk belief has it that snakes scare at the sight of their own shadows. [Rakovsky s] descriptions of the countryside are vivid and poetic, her psychological probing acute (in a thoroughly modern manner), the construction of her periods, and the rhythm these impart to the text, nicely poised, with a near-musical flow....The Shadow of the Snake is a true epic, and what is more, completely stylised and self-reflexive a post-modern epic. -Miklós Györffy, The Hungarian Quarterly

The Year of the Falling Star
2005

The Year of the Falling Star MAGVETŐ, BUDAPEST, 2005. 400 PAGES Zsuzsa Rakovszky has set her second novel in the 1950s, in the small-town of her birthplace close to the Hungarian border to Austria. The main protagonist is a little girl by the name of Piroska who, with her father dead, is being raised by her mother, who in turn has attachments to two other men, and in the end is obliged to choose between them. Devoted to her daughter, the mother does not dare to pick Bartha, the more original of the two, so she is left with the simpler but decent Pista. The character of the mother is left veiled in mystery throughout, if only because, like everything else, she is viewed from the child s point of view, although the narrative voice is in the third person. Thus, the story line is controlled by the child s realm of sensation and imagination, in the same way as the mother s fate is determined by her horizon. There are equally marvellous passages about a child s experience of death and fear of death as there are about the everyday sights of Hungary during the Stalinist regime under the dictator Rákosi. The treatment the girl faces in her nursery school typifies the whole era, with its inhuman ambience reflecting the wider society. The Year of the Falling Star is 1956. It is not just a matter of the literal falling of red stars from buildings during the Hungarian Revolution (nothing is said about that here, though the reader might bring awareness of this to the work), but the year in which an era in the lives of all the novel s main characters draws to a close: the little girl spends her last few months at nursery school; her mother marries boring Pista, who has returned home from internment as a prisoner of war in a Soviet labour camp; Bartha, a raffish figure from Budapest s theatre life, flees the country to take up a new life in Vienna; while Nenne (Nanny), an old woman who lives with Piroska and her mother, dies. The stars that fall thus also signify the end of the mother s hopes. The visionary passages of the penultimate chapter ( The Escape ) raise a suggestion that the womenfolk might be able to flee this world in a dinghy, but that remains a dream. As a final component of the book s title, Piroska often sees shooting stars and is terrified that these really are falling to Earth. Built up like a mosaic of seemingly disconnected shards, most of the book s story is assembled from the young girl s recollections. However, this is periodically interrupted by the texts of various letters and diaries which appear to have no organic connection to the main plot, though by the end they are seen to fit in. The storytelling is frequently enhanced by lyrical interpolations of highly poetic language, notably in the evocation of natural phenomena. It is a metaphorical idiom well suited to conveying the mysteriousness and fearfulness of childhood. This is a book which conveys how it felt to be a child growing up during the Fifties. -Magda Ferch, Magyar Nemzet The Year of the Falling Star is the sort of work that one simply cannot (should not) read through just the once. -Gergely Angyalosi, Élet és Irodalom

Way to back the time
2006

Collected Poems, 1981-2005 This latest volume contains, with 11 exceptions, all of the poems that appeared in the previous five volumes, with the addition of a cycle of six pieces, presented under the title Téli napforduló (Winter Solstice), that were composed between 1998 and 2005. One can fairly readily take measure of just how much this body of work represents, small as it may be quantitatively. Rakovszky seems to have hit her stride poetically very quickly, there being little fluctuation in her voice from the beginning. Perhaps her most important subject is time and its passing, which inspires her to write poems of true philosophical profundity. Of the six new poems in this volume, Pitbull proceeds from a description of an ill-natured canine to a meditation on the problem of evil; Öregkor (Old Age) from passing on to the idea of time being used up; Winter Solstice concerns a lonely woman who opens the gas tap on herself; and A kő, a víz, a szél (Stone, Water, Wind) deals with the state of clinical death. Zsuzsa Rakovszky s lyrical poetry deals with the bounded consciousness that cannot know even itself, human lives that are forced to live below their own potential, the immeasurable fragility of human life and the ultimate uncertainty of its sense even if it is the only option, at once wretched and magnificent in its truncation and fragmentariness. -Ferenc Győző, Népszabadság In speaking about the poetry of Zsuzsa Rakovszky it has become almost commonplace to stress that it is the continuity, the accessibility and the presence of a pure poetic voice that are astonishing when one contemplates how her career has evolved. -Szilárd Borbély, Élet és Irodalom

The Moon In the Seventh House
2010

In her latest prose work, Zsuzsa Rakovszky—who has a long-established reputation as one of Hungary’s most exceptional poets—presents a collection of psychological stories and monologues of fate. The protagonists are in all cases women, and generally married women, and the setting is Hungary today and in the recent past. More specifically, we find ourselves in closed rooms, cold train stations, and other lifeless living spaces; amid traumas sunk into oblivion, memories that erupt unexpectedly, irresolvable problems, and enigmatic dreams. To convey all this, Rakovszky employs the same metaphoric narrative language so familiar from her poetry. Her precisely articulated sentences give us the impression of travelling in an Eastern European train at night, with the door of our compartment slid shut and the curtains closed on both the window and the door: darkness all around outside, intense light inside. We can see the darkness enveloping us precisely on account of the inside light; or, rather, we see it in conjunction with the light. But where are we travelling to? In The Moon In the Seventh House, the present is generally comprehensible by way of the past, and so we find ourselves often being taken back in time. Conflicts of fate and chance shape the characters’ life stories. Above all, perhaps it is the fate of chance itself that concerns the author here; this, along with her heroines, who, even if they don’t necessarily take on their fates, do at any rate look them squarely in the eye. As self-contained as these stories are, they are also bound together by shedding light on general psychological truths. They are linked neither by setting (though a few characteristic settings do weave their way through the book) nor by recurring characters (though we often come across figures with similar names), but rather, by their exploration of certain recurring motifs—from memories and remembering to traveling and dreaming. Rakovszky places the fates of her characters, and the fate of women in general, in the intellectual and emotional force field of her book. What does it mean to be alone, to grow up alone, to raise a child on one’s own, to divorce and to leave someone, to cheat on and be cheated on, to be dependent on a father and then a husband, to yearn for a father and a husband, to be orphaned and to be widowed? In this respect it is not by chance that the stories of this new, powerful collection unfold on the landscapes of Hungary’s recent past; for they are marked by restrained passions, by the compromises that lurk in women’s lives, and, yes, by a complete avoidance of cheap solutions.

VS
2011

Zsuzsa Rakovszky’s novels center around the fate of a woman. In her latest work VS, the protagonist is a countess living at the end of the 19th century named Sarolta Vay. VS utilizes personal, confessional forms such as a diary, recollections, letters and poetry to describe the true story of the transsexual countess, journalist and writer. At one point the narrator, who considers herself/himself Sándor Vay, breaks down and cries, “Well, can I help it that in your world there is no word for what I am?” Sarolta Vay/Sándor Vay, or more simply VS, already stood out as a child for her/his vivid imagination, enthralling intellect, and sensitivity. Surrounded by “the laws of nature and religion,” her/his behavior, which went against social norms, was originally considered the eccentricity of a child that would eventually be outgrown. But that is not what happens, for VS’s masculine identity grows stronger and more permanent with time. VS’s gentry lifestyle reminds the reader of a man, but the occasionally gushy, over-detailed or hysterical confessions remind him of a spoiled countess. VS’s secret is revealed during a criminal investigation launched when VS’s father-in-law reports her/him for unpaid debts. During her/his time spent in jail and through psychological evaluations, VS writes her/his story so that her/his environment can understand that she/he is a “complete person,” and that if people expect her/him to change, society will end up killing her/his soul. Th rough VS’s frank, personal narration of love and marriage, the novel exposes the prudishness and naïveté of the second half of the 19th century. Th e young women whom count VS captivates do not realize during their sexual encounters that they are not actually with a man. Some of them even believe they are with child aft er a stolen kiss beneath a blackberry bush. Th e girls’ innocence exposes the forcibly created traditions and mores of the past. The great virtue of Zsuzsa Rakovszky’s novel is that the transsexual protagonist is not introduced as simply a victim of the times. VS’s selfi sh, lazy and wasteful life, mistreatment of those who love her/him creates just as much antipathy in the reader as the compassion that arises from seeing how VS tries to keep true to herself/himself in the conservative world that would transform her/him by force if need be. Th e “self-conscious girl” is eventually branded: the offi cial medical report declares her incompetent, but paradoxically, this branding of her/him brings about his/her freedom, since someone declared mentally unfi t can live her/his life as she/he wants.

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