Author's page

Ferenc SÁNTA
( 1927 - 2008 )

» Blossoms in Winter (1956)
» The Fifth Seal (1963)
» Twenty Hours (1964)

Biography

1927 born in Brassó (Brasov, Romania) and spends his childhood in Transylvania
1945 student in Debrecen
1954 first short story published
1958-68 works as a librarian
He died 6th June, 2008, in Budapest

Major Prizes:
1956, 1964 Attila József Award
1970 Golden Nymph av (Monte Carlo)
1973 Kossuth Award
1993 Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic Officer Cross
1998 Freeman of Angyalföld
2004 For Hungarian Art Award
2004 My Homeland Award

Blossoms in Winter
1956

The young Ferenc Sánta worked in a factory when he was discovered by a well-known writer. His first short story, Sokan voltunk (1954, There Were Too Many of Us), was soon published. At the time, Sánta was writing in the realist tradition of Zsigmond Móricz, whose first short story dealt with a similar topic. As a writer of Transylvanian origin, he was also influenced by the anecdotal naivety of Áron Tamási, mixing naturalism with magic. This particular story is about a poor family with many children; it recounts the death of the grandfather, who kills himself in a gas-filled pit in order to free the struggling family from the burden of having to keep him fed alongside themselves. Sánta s first short story collection contains recollections of his childhood in the manner of folk songs and ballads; he seeks real-life heroes who endure poverty with dignity and humour. His second volume, Farkasok a küszöbön (Wolves on the Threshold, 1961), however, depicts a darker and less mythological world, related in a more complex style; the stories, as often is the case in Sánta s works, are similar to parables. His main concern the relation between man and history becomes increasingly emphatic: Sánta examines the moral responsibility of the individual when domestic values and historical interests clash. History is always beset with war and cruelty, but man is to remain human even amongst inhuman circumstances.

The Fifth Seal
1963

This novel is an examination of human morality, an inquiry into the nature of heroism and human weakness. It is set in Budapest during the years of fascism. At the beginning we are introduced to four ordinary men, each trying to lead a normal life among abnormal circumstances, in a time when everyone is exposed to the dark workings of history; the reign of terror of the Nazis might at any moment threaten anyone s life. The characters of the novel seem to be the exact opposite of heroes; they sit in a pub and talk about prosaic problems like the preparation of a meal. They joke and tease each other as good friends do; their talk is presented with minimal authorial interference. The first part of the book consists of their dialogue and lengthy monologues; there is only one interruption from the narrative voice, when the writer explains that his only aim is the faithful presentation of these people, and in order to understand them, the reader must be patient and get acquainted with all these unimportant details of their lives. Their talk, however, eventually turns towards the question of ethics and morality. After they have all agreed that they have nothing to do with history, and they only wish history would forget them altogether and let them live in peace amongst the pleasures of their job and family, Mr Gyurica, a cynical watchmaker, introduces a parable about the fate of man. On a remote island, he says, a god-like king reigns, who treats his slave with extreme cruelty, but is unconcerned about their sufferings; his slave, on the other hand, leads an exemplary life, the model of conformity, but he is repeatedly tortured and his family is taken away. The question is: whose life would Gyurica s friends choose? Which one do they want: ethics or power? They all fall silent, only an unknown newcomer, a crippled photographer, says that he would choose to be the slave. Gyurica mocks him and calls him a liar, and the man, who thinks himself an immaculate human being who secretly suffers for the well-being of mankind, and feels his pride wounded and immediately goes to the fascist authorities and informs them of what he has witnessed: that the company has expressed anti-fascist sentiments. Meanwhile, the others return home; the reader learns about their intimate moments with their wives (or mistresses) and finds out that they are still pondering the problem raised by the watchmaker. In the end, deep in their hearts, they all decide to choose the position of the cruel king instead of accepting the hopeless sufferings of the devoted servant. Only the watchmaker Gyurica is unconcerned; he has a more urgent task. In his little house he is hiding eleven children from the Nazis; a new child arrives, a distraught little girl whose parents have been killed, and Gyurica speaks to her gently and tries to console her while he puts her to bed. He then spends the night mending their socks, preparing their meals and reading their homework. This is ethics in action: the man who seemed so cynical among his friends turns out to be a loving and caring guardian. The following day the Nazis arrive for the four unsuspecting men. They take them to their headquarters and torture them ferociously, without telling them what they are accused of. Bleeding and terrified, they expect to be killed. But the heartless fascist commander prepares a devilish test for them: in order to prove their loyalty, they must beat a dying man, who is hanged from the ceiling of the cell a former workman who plotted against the Nazis and who has been terribly tortured and mutilated. Three of the company the ones that had formerly decided for the mythical and cruel king, are unable to hurt the poor man who is hanging like Christ from the cross and who is continually mocked by the Nazis. They choose death instead: pity makes them keep their ethical stature, though they are horrified by the thought of death. Only Gyurica steps out to beat the bleeding and distorted figure. He is shocked and almost mad with pity for the tortured man, but he beats him nevertheless, in order to be freed. The children are waiting for him; these innocent souls are totally dependent on him. The others watch him with awe; they know nothing about Gyurica s reasons. The Nazis let him out; he walks the streets like a madman. His body is freed, but his soul has been destroyed forever. An air strike approaches, bombs fall, everything around him crumbles and burns, but he does not stop until he gets home to the children. This last scene of the book recalls the Revelations of St John, the origin of the title of the book: When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who have been slain because the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. The reader is left alone to solve the question of martyrdom: whose decision was right? Is it in any way possible to come to the right decision in a situation like that? One thing, however, is clear: these men all proved to be heroes.

Twenty Hours
1964

This novel is marked by an ethical and philosophical approach, which explores not only the responsibilities of the recent past, but also the controversies faced by the Hungarian peasantry. The book is a fictitious reportage of a newspaper reporter investigating a murder committed during the 1956 Revolution. Throughout the story of the shooting, a whole historical period unfolds, the years between 1945 and 1960, when major transformations occurred in the Hungarian village (first land was distributed among the peasants; then it was taken away by forced collectivisation). The author contemplates whether it is necessary for one man to destroy another. The question remains unanswered, but Sánta s philosophy of history is pessimistic: humans are moved by the same essential drives as animals. The novel was made into a successful movie.

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