Author's page

Biography

1954 born in Tótkomlós, a village in southeast Hungary with a Slovakian minority
1974-78 studies economics at the University of Pécs
1980-82 graduates in sociology from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
1978-82 trainee, then assistant lecturer, at the University of Pécs
1982-93 works for the Sociological Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Science
from 1992 editor of the literary periodical Holmi

His prizes include:
1989 Zsigmond Móricz Scholarship
1992 The Sociology Prize of the Literary Branch of the Hungarian Artists Foundation
1995 Quality Prize from the Hungarian Radio
1997 The Soros Foundation Literary Scholarship
1997 The Periodical Jelenkor s Júlia Szinnyei Memorial Prize
1998 Attila József Prize
1998 Book of the Year Prize
1998 Tibor Déry Prize
1999 Gyula Krúdy Prize
2000 Sándor Márai Prize
2000 honorary citizen of Tótkomlós
2005 Kossuth-Prize

Kulak Squeezer
1986, 1991

Závada s sociography, written about his native village, traces the Hungarian developments of Stalinist peasant policy on two parallel levels, both in the history of the village and the story of the family farm. The revised 1991 edition further documents the history of the peasant family the book portrays. It was turned into a documentary by Bálint Magyar and Pál Schiffer (A Dunánál, On the Danube, 1986). The interviews conducted during fieldwork render the social background and the language of the novels even more authentic.

Jadwiga’s Pillow
1997

This best-selling novel portrays a Hungarian village with a Slovak minority and spans the time from WWI, through the national awakening of the Slovaks, the Hungarian Soviet Republic, to WWII, while the story of its last surviving character reaches the immediate past. The novel is written in the intricate form of several diaries. The body of the text is the little book of notes kept by András Osztatní, the betrayed but forgiving husband, who is also a fallible man in terms of politics. After his death, his wife (and perhaps his half-sister?), Maria Jadwiga Palkovits, inserts her own remarks into the book. The manuscript is finally edited by a third hand, Jadwiga s second son, who counterpoints the passion of the first two speakers with his clumsy and badly articulated notes that nevertheless claim to be an interpretation. The lives of the protagonists are governed by love, defencelessness, betrayal and the fateful events of the 20th century in this novel written with great linguistic inventiveness.

Milota
2002

Závada's second novel, another story of a family, a village and a love rolled up in one, is set in a similar Slovak-speaking community, although in the 1990s, and is related to the former book through certain links between the characters' families. Like the earlier book, it too is framed in diary form, containing parallel and alternating texts by two characters. Sixty-seven-year-old irresponsible but amiable György Milota dictates into a tape-recorder the story of his life, the doings of his family and his own love exploits, digressing all the while into the tricks of beekeeping and the production of poppy seeds. We read the typewritten, complicated love-life of thirty-four-year-old Erka Roszkos in parallel; the mystery of this intricate chronology is that the two characters are supposed to be remembering at the same time, both in full knowledge of the other's texts, as the entries talk back to one another. In the end, another secret is revealed: Erka, in love with the younger Milota, is in fact the daughter of his father.

The Photographer’s Legacy
2004

413 pages Born in 1954 to a family of Hungarian-Slovak background in Tótkomlós, in the south-east corner of Hungary, Pál Závada started working first as sociologist and later as a journal editor. His first book, Kulákprés (Kulak Squeezer, 1986), followed the twentieth-century social history of his native village. His first novel, Jadviga párnája (Jadwiga's Pillow, 1997), was a best-seller, winning plaudits from the critics and the reading public alike and was turned into a film of the same title (directed by Krisztina Deák, 2000).This was followed by Milota in 2002. A fényképész utókora Like the two before it, Závada's third novel is rooted in the same south-eastern Hungarian village community populated in large part by ethnic Slovakians, with some of the figures being carried over from previous novels. The photographer referred to in the title is Miklós Buchbinder, who was of Jewish descent, deported, along with all his family and killed in a Nazi death camp during the summer of 1944. He may no longer be present himself, but the novel concerns his legacy - specifically a photograph that he took in 1942, in which all the main figures can be seen. Having been lost, the photo eventually ends up in the hands of the one the central characters, Ádám Koren, grandson of the Slovak woman who features in the shot. The story of Ádám s life brings us up to the present day. The twelve chapters which comprise the novel operate on three levels. The first plot-line takes place between 1942 and 1956, the second during the 1960s and 70s, and the third largely during the 1980s, ending in 1992. The first important figure is László Dohányos, a charismatic, politically motivated “village-researcher” ethnographer of the pre-war era who ends up as a crypto-Communist minister in the post-war Rákosi régime. Viola, the daughter of his assistant, later becomes the unattainable great love of Ádám’s life. The second strand of the plot deals with Ádám’s childhood and school days, while the third starts off with a journey which Ádám and a friend take to the West, then moves to his somewhat aimless existence as a budding intellectual in Budapest, and finally to a 17-year unrequited love, not consummated even when it might have been. This third strand is a fairly explicit retelling of Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, with Ádám Koren and Viola Adler’s story shadowing that of Frédéric Moreau’s love for Mme Arnoux. Just as in Flaubert, where the events of the 1848 Revolution slip by almost unnoticed by the protagonists, here Hungary’s 1989-90 change of régime takes place almost unremarked. Koren's life ultimately goes awry and becomes completely aimless. More important than its plot is the novel s comprehensive yet astonishingly detailed view of the complex changes that have been going on in Hungarian society: the patchy bourgeosification and still semi-feudal rural world of the pre-war years, the crippling of peasant life under communism or the stealthy return of bourgeois values to the world of the capital s intelligentsia toward the end of the Kádár régime. Much is said as well about the position of Jews in the country, which is presented as one of the gravest questions that Hungarian society faced during the twentieth century. For all that, many of the characters who feature in the story are of ethnic Slovak rural background, even if this is not highlighted to the same degree as in the earlier novels. Colouring the whole narration of the story is a highly distinctive use of the first person plural, with whatever characters happen to be present. They look on or take part in a scene while constantly interjecting, giving their comments on what is taking place. This strange chorus of the grammatical we is clearly intended to suggest that all of us are, likewise, simultaneously participants and spectators in this half-century of recent history. The novel strikes an intriguing and successful balance between dislocation and integration." -Ferenc Takács, Népszabadság

Our Foreign Body
2008

It is hard to write in the first person plural. More than that—fishy. Who is being referred by that “we”, just for starters? Following A fényképész utókora. (The Photographer’s Legacy), his masterly novel of 2004, Pál Závada has again chosen to experiment with the perspective and opportunities that a plural voice offers. At the core of the latest novel is the story of a nocturnal debate. In September 1940 sixteen persons assemble in Budapest, in the Customs House Square studio flat of female photographer Janka Weiner. The balcony gives a purview on the entire sweep of the Danube as it passes through the capital, and the exchanges on the situation in the region as a whole. They converse, argue, recollect, speculate on the epoch’s stage throughout the night. Each one of them has something in common with the others, yet practically nobody concurs with anyone else. The events of that night are illuminated by the forward and backward cuts in the side-stories. The novel allows one to build up an impression of, among other things, how the Ferencváros (Ninth) District of Pest, with its Reformed Church (Calvinist) roots, was established; how an ethnic German (Swabian) and a Jewish family sought to assimilate into Hungarian society (and the failure of that assimilation); a chronicle of how Hungary marched back into Transylvania (which was lost to it under the 1920 Treaty of Trianon) when the latter was reannexed under the terms of the Second Vienna Award of 30 August 1940; the failed attempt that Hungary made in late 1943 and early 1944, under Regent Nicholas Horthy, to seek an armistice with the Western Allies. In Závada’s community of fate a Horthyist army officer rubs shoulder with a middle-class journalist of democratic views, a ‘village researcher’ (ethnographer) with affiliations to the Peasant Party, a notorious Communist, a textile factory owner (of Jewish descent) who has been called up for forced labour service, and a press chief for the Hungary’s near-Nazi Arrow-Cross Party. The company is held together by Janka Weiner through her personality (her sheer radiance, her empathy, and more than a drop of naivety) and by an illusion. The characters of the novel, having left behind the snug environs of a shared childhood, now find themselves scattered all over the place. Janka goes to any length to proclaim their responsibility to each other—a stance that, beyond a certain level, may strike the reader as unwarranted and even a little dogmatic. Yet Závada’s avowed aim and method is that a kind of aesthetic and also readable working-out of the traumas of the past should certainly deserve respect. Our Foreign Body already carries its paradoxes within its very title. The ours is the thing that (or the one who) is foreign. Závada’s prose shows what is our own rather than foreign; what is believed to be the foreignness of our selves, and the idiosyncrasies of ours that are proclaimed to be foreign.

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