Author's page

György SPIRÓ
( 1946 )

» The X-es (1981)
» Dreaming for you (1987)
» Chickenhead (1987)
» The Kingfisher (2001)
» Captivity (2005)

Biography

1946 born in Budapest
1963-70 studies in Hungarian, Russian and Serbo-Croatian philology at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
1971 editor for the Corvina Publishing House, teacher at the Film and Drama School in Budapest
1978-81 researcher for the Hungarian Academy of Science
1992-95 director of the Szigligeti Theatre, Szolnok

His prizes:
1975 Prize for the Best First Volume, 1982 Attila József Prize, 1987 Theatre Critics' Prize, 1988 Book of the Year Prize, 1990 Erzsébet Prize, 1993 Tibor Déry Prize, 1994 Imre Madách Prize, 1996 First Prize of the Playwright Competition; First Prize of Drama Competition of the Attila József Theatre; Silver Spear Prize, 1997 Széchenyi professor's grant, Ernő Szép Prize, 1998 Laurel Wreath, Best Hungarian Play, 2006 Kossuth Prize

The X-es
1981

„The novel is set in Warsaw of the late 1810s, capital of the Congress Kingdom, ostensibly independent but in effect under the rule of the Russian Empire. ... It is a theatrical novel in that it is set within the sphere of rehearsals, premieres, scandals and bans on plays; it is a political novel in that it shows how art and politics are inextricably intertwined in Eastern Europe; it is a documentary novel in that it draws on theatrical criticism of the day in practically unchanged form; but above all, it is a novel about the life of a great actor [Wojciech Boguslawski], who could not die except as a victor and playing a role.” (György Spiró)

Dreaming for you
1987

Spiró is not only an outstanding novelist but also an excellent playwright (his drama Chickenhead was perhaps the most memorable play of the Eighties, which caused a great uproar because of its frequent resort to degraded grammar and four-letter words) , essayist (he is the author of an important work of theatre history about multiple roles in Shakespeare) as well as short-story writer. This collection of short stories was originally published in 1987, but in 2000 was completed by five short stories from the volume T-boy (Madness) and eight new stories. Both editions begin with the story ’Utopia,’ about a survivor of the second world war who, against all the odds, still wishes to become a father and thus secretly pricks pinholes in the condoms he uses. The second story is about a small boy, supposedly the father’s son, whose natural creativity is systematically crashed by both family and school. The stories continue in a similar chronological manner, seemingly linked by the same bitterly objective voice, that of the narrator relating some kind of real or imagined autobiography, with stories of initiations, love, death, revolution, travels, fathers, mothers, lovers and strange dreams. The author (called ’Author’ in some stories) is never overcome by his emotions and allows the reader (apostrophized as ’Reader’ in the closing story) to understand the events. The title story, for example, is not a romantic tale but a sharp and sad story about the death of a father who, before his death, dreams a story for his son, the writer, but is not given the opportunity to tell it.

The Kingfisher
2001

„One should never copy one’s own successes” says a child in one of Spiró’s short stories. The author seems to obey his own rules, because in this volume he treads a path he has only followed in earlier pieces published in various magazines. Adopting the same sarcastic voice, he has composed a gigantic novel of nearly 800 pages, a dystopia of the present and future ages comparable to the works of Jonathan Swift or Thomas Pynchon. The Kingfisher of the title is, in fact, a woman by the name of Zsonna Bísztő, whose biography, the main body of the book, is being written by a certain Bollog Shonason who lives in the strange country of Talismania (clearly somewhere in America). The story relates how Zsonna, who was born in the Meagerland (Hungary) of our times, is becoming a victim of an international conspiracy in the course of which she is transformed into the prototype of a woman with three vaginas. Moreover, part of her brain is transplanted in the head of a kingfisher, who manages to escape and finishes her life on the remote island of Hölle, becoming in the process Talismania’s first saint: Shona Bisto. The dark and ironic novel teems with a multitude of frightening and also hilarious subplots.

Captivity
2005

Captivity MAGVETŐ, BUDAPEST, 2005. 770 PAGES György Spiró s fourth major novel has become the literary sensation of 2005 in Hungary. As with his previous ventures, this one too deals with the relation of the individual to history. Set in the first century after the birth of Jesus Christ, the new novel plays out in the Roman Empire during the time when Christianity was first emerging as a religion. It is not concerned with the early Christians as such, however, but with the political and intellectual climate that was prevalent in the first century, with Christianity in the eyes of the of the time merely a minor sect. Captivity is an adventure story. The hero, Uri (Gaius Theodorus), a Jew who is born and grows up in Rome s Jewish community, is a puny, unprepossessing, short-sighted young man, whom his father in return for risking his entire tiny fortune as a loan to a high imperial official gets instated as a member of the delegation that annually takes the ritual tax for the Jewish community of Rome to Jerusalem. Travelling through the eastern half of the Roman Empire, the first great globalized economy in history, Yuri eventually spends periods in Judea and Alexandria before finally making his way back to Italy. Along the way, he is imprisoned by Herod s officials for a week in Jerusalem (being joined by two thieves and, it would seem, Jesus himself shortly before their crucifixion) before dining with Pontius Pilate, then forced to work as a vagrant among peasants in the Judean countryside before making his way to Alexandria in Egypt. There among other things he wins a place for three years at the city s elite grammar school, indulges himself in the pleasures provided by the local prostitutes, and lives through a pogrom that seems to have seen the erection of the first ghetto in history. Uri returns to Rome to find his father has died during his absence and that he is now obliged to take on repayment of the money his father borrowed. He works first as secretary to some of the richest Jewish dignitaries and later as a labourer on a palace for the emperor Nero, before he is unjustly labelled as being a Nazarene and exiled from his birthplace as a penniless outlaw. He therefore leads an exciting, varied and truly adventure-packed life, which offers him the opportunity to become versed in a dozen or more very different occupations. Meanwhile he turns himself into a true intellectual of his times, reading widely, learning a clutch of languages, acquiring first-hand knowledge of a thousand and one things, and honing a first-class intellect. Finding himself in perilous times without number, but blessed with luck, he nevertheless ultimately fails to make anything of his life. Although he eventually acquires a family, he dies a lonely, neglected figure in wretched circumstances. The very last sentence of the book runs: I still want to live, he thought to himself, and was lost in wonder. That amazement is no surprise, given everything that has happened during Uri s life. In the light of his truly historical exploits, he gains the ability to hold an independent view of things, transcending his immediate political and religious milieu. He comes to realize that it is better to fade into the background and hide, that being the best survival tactic, but meanwhile he is astute enough to see clearly what games are going on. Though at one stage in his life he becomes an intimate of many leading figures in Roman and Jewish life, he never really belongs. He picks up on the intellectual movements of the day yet always holds himself aloof from them. This makes him a classic novel hero, his story a palimpsest for the entire world in which he lives. At the same time, the work is an extraordinary historical novel, giving the reader a thorough and accurate conspectus of the political, economic, geographical, military and religious circumstances of that age, of the oddities of mundane reality. This, hitched to a highly inventive plot line, entices the reader into reading on to find out what happened next. When the book closes, though, one is left with the question of what it all amounts to. What is the point of all the battles and religions? What is the point of struggling? Is there any sense? Why, in the final analysis, is history a litany of mass slaughters? Why does mankind continue to place his faith in ever newer things when he will inevitably become disillusioned? What this sensational novel outlines is the demonic nature of History. Ethically as well as historically, this an especially grand-scale parable Captivity gets its feet under any literary table you care to mention ." István Margócsy, Élet és Irodalom This book is a major landmark for the year. - Pál Závada, Népszabadság It would not be surprising if literary historians were soon calling him the re-assessor and regenerator of the post-modern novel - Gergely Mézes, Magyar Hírlap impossibly engrossing from the very first page Building on a huge volume of reference material, the novel rings true from both a historical and a literary point of view. Magda Ferch, Magyar Nemzet

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