Az imént már tél volt, de elsöpörte a meleg front. Amitől eléggé fáj a fejem, nem képletes értelemben.
Mindig nagy érdeklődéssel olvasom véleményeiteket az Alexandra házbeli beszélgetésekről. Ezekkel kapcsolatban én általában sokkal szigorúbb vagyok, mint ti. Mindenesetre mostanában jöttem rá, hogy eléggé sűrűn csinálom immár, ahhoz képest, hogy eredetileg havi egyről volt szó. Valahogyan megsokasodtak, fokozatosan. De nem bánom. Úgy érzem, mindenképp jó dolog, ha kollégákat kérdezhetek, részben szakmai dolgokról. Van az egésznek egy kis TIT-íze (fiatalabbak kedvéért: ismeretterjesztő), s még ez is kedvemre való. Egészen addig, amíg az általam nagyra tartott értékeken marad a hangsúly.
Mostanában mintha az írás után ez volna a legalapvetőbb foglalkozásom. Ami a készülő regényt illeti, néhány hétre félbehagytam. Ez jól is jöhet, mert most már van némi rálátásom, s kis szünet után elolvasva megfontoltabban dönthetem el, hogy pontosan merre induljak tovább. A kihagyás legfőbb oka értelemszerűen a HOGY VOLT megjelenése. Az új könyv mindig fölbolydítja az ember lelkét, ez meg különösen. Olyan sok szó esett a hajdani idősebb írókról, hogy ábrándos hangulatba estem.
Amúgy is érzelmes időszak ez a számomra. Ritkán traktállak benneteket magánügyeimmel, és ez helyes is. De most mégis jelzem, a héten betöltötték az aprótermetű rokonaim a második életévüket. Ez nagyon meglep, hiszen mintha tegnap születtek volna. S alkalmat ad az emlékezésre, valamint a merengésre. Talán kisebb jelentőségű adat, hogy Rilke kutyám pedig néhány nap múlva lesz hat éves. Ő is kap ajándékot.
Kábé ez történik velem. És sok aprómunka. Interjúk, alkalmi szövegek külföldre, ilyesmi. Az Élet és Irodalomban talán indul egy új sorozatom, ezúttal könyvekről szeretnék elmélkedni, nem egészen komoly tónusban. Az elsőt reszelgetem napok óta. A sorozat címe esetleg ÍRHATNÁM POLGÁR lesz, annak ellenére, hogy a téma az olvasás. Gondoltam arra, hogy a KIS KÖNYV címet kéne használnom, de nincs kedvem még ennyiben sem azonosulni azzal a tévéműsorral, vagy akár a televízióval általában.
Az Apák könyve angol és kanadai kiadója (Little Brown, a Time Warner Company) utószót kért, főleg azért, hogy világítsam meg a magyar történelmi eseményeket, amelyek szerepelnek a regényben. Én nem egészen ezt tettem, illetve nem csak ezt. A nyelvet beszélők számára mellékelem a szöveget. A szerkesztőt Richard Beswicknek hívják. A neki írt sorokkal kezdődik, melyben jelzem, hogy az általam angolul írt utószó azért alaposan átfésülendő.
Ugyancsak mellékelek egy interjút (magyarul, természetesen) azok közül, amelyeket az elmúlt két hétben adtam. Ez a Népszavában fog megjelenni - ha ugyan még nem jelent meg.
Mindeközben azon töröm a fejem, nagyon erősen, hogy kinek mit vegyek karácsonyra. Gondolom, e tekintetben a sorsunk közös.
Nagyon boldog évvégét kíván hívetek,
I did the best I could. Hope you can use it. Still, the text is in Hunglish, I am afraid. And I am not sure its humor is understandable here or there.
Plus I am no historian, so I wouldn't mind if you showed it to Peter Sherwood for a final check.
Otherwise feel free to use it, revise it, shorten it. Please, correct everything that sounds like boasting. I wouldn't mind reading the final text.
Ps. Let me know your opinion.
Some More Words by the Humble Author
My editor asked me to clarify a bit the historical events of Hungary that make the background of this novel. I'll do it. Although I believe that the reader doesn't really need this knowledge. I hope you can understand my story and heroes without having the faintest idea about Hungary or its past. Even if you aren't sure Budapest or Bucharest is the Hungarian capital (the latter is in Romania), I think you could swim forward in this novel and experience what the figures had to survive (and what some of them, hélas, could not).
There are a few personal facts and I'd like to tell you first. Book of Fathers was my 20th book published in Hungary, and my 9th novel. Previously, I wrote one about my mother, thinking her character was very similar to that of the socialism as such. She was tyrannical, unfair, merciless, cruel, unpredictable-but at the same time, quite funny. I was born in 1950, grew up in the softer period of socialism, and that wasn't humorless either. Anyway, after that I thought I owed my father one novel too. Unfortunately, he was a man who actually never spoke. He died when I was 19. Thus, I did not know much about him.
I decided to make some research. I traveled to the city of Pécs, in the Southern part of Hungary, where he was born and his family lived. In the archives I found a few enigmatic facts. My father had two brothers. His father was called Miklós Vámos. That Miklós Vámos, my grandpa, was born in Nagyvárad (now it's Oradea Mare and belongs to Romania). He owned a quite big shoe shop in Pécs. His father, Mendel Weissberger was a kosher distiller in Budapest, but he was born in Homonna (now it's Humenne and belongs to Slovakia). How and why ma grand-gandpa came to Budapest to distill here, and, in the meantime, how and why his son could be born in Nagyvárad? How and why my grandpa wound up in Pécs to open that shoe store? And what happened to the distillery? No answer.
My father spent more time in World War II than it actually lasted. He was already drafted a few times during the pre-war maneuvers of the Hungarian Army, invading ex-Hungarian territories which belonged to neighboring countries since the end of World War I. In the war, he was a member of a regular unit until the Jewish Laws, and after that a member of the weaponless Jewish forced labor company that was sent onto the mine fields in front of the German troops to "clean" their way towards Moscow. He was among the very few survivors. After the collapse of the front he was fleeing with others. Soviet troops captured him and without further investigation, he became a POW. He escaped with a friend, and practically walked home to Pécs. After that long promenade that took for a few months, he had to find out that his whole family was killed by the Nazis.
Ladies and Gentleman, I did not even know I was a Jew. When in the elementary school my classmates said anti-Semitic sentences, I followed their example, believing that Jew was just another four-letter word. In the high school, a girlfriend asked if I was a Jew. I said I was not. Thank god, I added. I asked my father about that, claming she called me a name, but I told I knew we had nothing to do with the Jews, indeed. My father pulled up on his front his specs, and then he said: "Well, I'm not so sure." He gave no further explanation. That was the way I understood I was a Jew in fact. Ever since then-I'm not so sure. In my childhood, I never heard at home about Jews or anything related. Moreover, I do not speak Hebrew or Yiddish, I don't know the habits, the eating rules, the prayers. Nevertheless, any time there is an anti-Semitic situation, I must be a Jew, and with this family background it's morally obligatory. "If you ever forget you are a Jew, a Gentile will remind you," as we all know.
Let's get back to my father. Later, somehow he became a secretary of a minister, László Rajk, who became the main victim of a showcase trial and was executed. My father was lucky that he was left out of the trial. He worked for seven year as an untrained hand miller in a factory. Then he got ill with his heart, and after a long period of in and out of hospital, died. That's all I could rake in, so I had to recognize this would not be enough stuff for a novel about him.
What shall I do? I was angry. OK, if I'm unable to write a novel about my dad, why don't I write one about every Hungarian father? I picked 100 of them, famous and unknown men, and started to collect their biographies. But that seemed a but boring. Then came the idea to choose 12 of them who represent the 12 astronomical signs-that would cover every Hungarian male. In the Hungarian text in each chapter the first name of the central character starts with the same letter as his sign. The "vignettes" that introduce the chapters try to create the mood of the one-month period of the given sign, and the sentences were collected from old Hungarian calendars and yearbooks.
I described the life of 12 first born sons of one family, the first is the father of the second, and so on, throughout 12 generations. This gave a solid and simple structure, and, I hope, the reader can easily go with the plot even if it's complicated. The Jewish name of the family is Stern, and the Hungarian is Csillag (both mean 'star'). I knew that the last scene of the novel should be the solar eclipse that happened on August 11, 1999 since that was about the most beautiful spectacle I have ever seen. I was looking for another one in about 300 years ago, and I found it. Thus, the time frame of the novel was given, and this is how it grew into a Hungarian family saga.
Many readers in Hungary (and a few in Germany) wrote me letters, claiming they were envious because I knew so well the story of my ancestors. I wish I really knew it. However, as it is already clear for you, I have known almost nothing. I invented a complete family, because I lost the real one. But I am proud when the reader believes he gets the story of my clan.
The Hungarian noblemen and the intelligentsia spoke French and German in the seventies. The poor only used our language, and many words did not exist at all. One of the nicest chapters of the history of Hungarian culture is the so-called Language Reform. Writers, poets and linguists decided to improve Hungarian language, and, in a few years, invented many-many new words. A very high percentage of the modern Hungarian vocabulary was created by them. This fact made me think that it would be interesting if I could use in every chapter only the words and expressions of the period in question. In chapter I., II. and III., until we reach the beginning of the 1800th, that is, the period of the language reformers (one of them became a protagonist of mine), I used only such words that existed by then. I know that no translator can recreate this in indo-European languages since you had no such movement. Peter Sherwood did his best so you still can feel how the language of the novel gets gradually "younger" as time flies.
I spent a few years in the United States in the late eighties, and I made friends with quite a number of Americans. They loved and trusted me so they believed me when I told them I was a (good?) novelist. I am extremely excited about the English publication of Book of Fathers because now I may show them this novel at last. Can I prove them what I was saying, too? I'm praying.
HISTORICAL ASPETCTS OF THE NOVEL
There is a general characteristic of the Hungarian History. Hungary and Hungarians have lost every important war and revolution since the time of Mathias Rex. He occupied Vienna and became Prince of Austria too. Unfortunately, he died in 1490. After that, the nation and its heroes can be only seen on the losers' side.
A well-known and not too fresh joke may give you a general overview of the subject.
A Hungarian enters a small shop in New York and wants to buy a hat. But he doesn't have enough dollars on him, so he asks whether he could pay in forints (Hungarian currency).
"I've never seen any forints," the owner of the shop says. "Show me some."
So, the Hungarian shows him a ten-forint bill.
"Who's that guy here?" asks the owner.
"This is Sándor Petőfi, the brightest star of Hungarian poetry. He lived in the last century. He was one of the March Youth who started the 1848-49 War of Liberty. He was killed in a battle at Segesvár when the war was crushed by the Austrians and the Russians."
"Oh my God, what an awful story... And who is this guy on the twenty-forint bill?"
"This is György Dózsa who led a peasant uprising in the sixteenth century. It was crushed and he was executed, actually, burned on a flaming throne..."
"OK, OK. And who is he, on the fifty?"
"This is Ferenc Rákóczi the 2nd, well, leader of another crushed liberty-war. Then he had to live in exile in Turkey."
"I should have guessed. And he on the one hundred?"
"That's Lajos Kossuth, leader of the 1948-49 War of Liberty, you know. After the fall, he had to flee..."
The owner interrupts him again, "OK, poor man, go now, the hat is yours free."
(Note: Most of the banknotes mentioned are out of usage now, due to the inflation waves after the fall of socialism.)
The Wesselényi-Zrínyi conspiracy to overthrow the despotic Hapsburg monarchy (Austria) was discovered very fast. Some of the participants could flee abroad, like the grandpa in chapter I. with his brother, daughter and grandson. We are after the Treaty of Karlóca that ended this chaotic period of Hungary when a huge part of the country had to suffer from a long lasting Turkish occupation. It lasted 150 years and seemed that it will never end. Then, an Austrian rule begun, and that one lasted much longer. Hungary became more or less a colony until World War I.
But the revolts and plots against the rulers were permanent. The so-called Kuruc (ancient orthography: Kurucz, original meaning: 'vagabond') guerilla troops were a pain in the ass of the Hapsburgs. The Kurucs were led first by Thököly, and later by Rákóczi the 2nd, the "Ruling Prince," who could almost reach a victory. After the fall, he and some of his commanders took refuge in Turkey, and a bloody retaliation destroyed the country. The name Kuruc was used as a synonym of someone fighting against the Habsburgs or any tyrant for centuries. Whereas partisans of the Austrians were called Labanc (ancient orthography: Labancz, original meaning: 'tousled'), and this became a synonym of reactionary. Both nouns have been frequently used in the Hungarian poetry.
The movement of the Language Reform was already mentioned. It also had some anti-Hapsburg character since people speaking in Hungarian rejected the official language of the Monarchy. The most outstanding event of the anti-Hapsburg instinct was certainly the 1848-49 Revolution and Liberty War. During almost two years, the nation might have believed that it can sweep out the Austrians and gain an independence deserved. The revolting powers, the government led by Lajos Kossuth and its army almost succeeded-only the help and Cossaks of the Russian Tsar could tip the scales on behalf of the Austrians. The retaliation was even more awful than usual. Quite a number of martyrs were produced in a few months, and their names can be read on street signs in Budapest and other Hungarian cit-ies.
A period of deep silence and sufferance started. A new era of relative conciliation could only begin in 1967, thanks to Ferenc Deák, a middle-of-the-road politician (he shows up in the novel). He was a front-runner of those who thought the circumstances cannot be forgotten, which is why a settlement with the Austrians was necessary. The pact was called The Compromise, and the k. u. k. Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was born. K. u. K. meant 'Kaiserliche und königliche,' (Imperial and Royal), because the Hapsburg on the throne became Austrian Emperor and Hungarian King. There were common ministries, but the most important offices remained under Austrian leadership.
In 1896, the Hungarian nation celebrated the anniversary of its thousand-year existence with high scale celebrations. Some historians claimed that the anniversary was earlier-but the authorities needed more time to build and organize. If this is true, that's another typical Hungarian story.
Living in Hungary for the Jews has never been a bed of roses. Throughout the centuries, they were not allowed to own anything including land. Their situation was different in the different regions and cities. Their right to a regular citizenship was more or less accepted only during the 1848 Revolution and Liberty war in which a great number of Jews participated. Most of them wanted to be Hungarians and behaved accordingly.
After World War I the Trianon Treaty was more than rude to Hungary. The country lost approximately two third of its previous size. The laws in the small Hungary were somewhat more liberal to the Jews and other ethnic groups than the in the lost territories. No wonder that the number of Jews grew fast. Most of them came to Hungary from the neighboring countries. Now that their ratio became significantly higher, a rough anti-Semitism was rose. A regulation called "numerus clausus" minimized the number of Jewish students who were allowed to attend. My father could get his law degree in spite of this rule, but he was unable to work as a lawyer due to the Jewish Laws that came into power in the forties.
After being on the losers' side in World War I, Hungary wanted to be among the winners in the next one. They were looking for the favors of Germany and Hitler. This shows again Hungarians' pretty good sense of seeing the future… By 1945, Hungary lost two armies and almost one tenth of its citizens, including approximately half of the Jewish population.
Socialism wasn't easy either. The new rulers of the country killed each other following the soviet rule: try your best comrades under false pretexts and execute them. And if a dictator lives long enough, he can rebury and rehabilitate the killed. This is what hap-pened to László Rajk. He was reburied in 1956, before the Revolution that almost shook the Soviet empire. The soviet tanks and herds crushed it in a matter of days. More martyrs were produced. The Prime Minister of the revolutionary government, Imre Nagy was among the hanged.
He and others were reburied and celebrated in 1989, year of the collapse of socialism. János Kádár, who reigned since 1956 and was considered as the killer of Imre Nagy and many other freedom fighters, was ousted. I never hoped I could survive the end of socialism. In 1989, I was in the USA, and when I read in The New York Times what was going on in Hungary, I couldn't believe my eyes. I thought Western journalists exaggerated a lot, and I was constantly waiting for the bad news: Russians invaded Hungary again as always. Therefore, your humble chronicler is not good either in seeing the future, unlike most of his characters in this novel. Literature has its advantages, even if it is Hungarian.