Tag: Magda Szabó

Distracted by Other Books

Posted September 11, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 14 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in August 2018

August is Women in Translations month, which means there is a big influx of people reading translations, even the publishers and big bookish media seem to promote the event. This feels like a double edge sword for me, while I love that more people are reading from my corner of the bookish world, there are plenty of cringe worthy moments to be had as well. There are people who like to make themselves the authority of the topic despite showing no interest previously in the male/female balance in the world of translations. Admittedly this reaction I have is just my grumpiness coming to play and in reality I should be thankful to see so many people participate in a month dedicated to reading women in translations. For those that did not want to dedicate a whole month, some BookTubers even put together a Women in Translations readathon, but I will not be discussing my problem with readathons here.

I had planned my reading month, thinking that while vacationing around Tasmania I would have more reading time than expected. I packed four books to read during the trip, plus a kindle but I only managed to complete one novel during that entire trip, and it was not even a book I was enjoying. Prior to my vacation, I had read Convenience Store Woman, a book that I still think about to this day. The hype surrounding this book is justified. I also read The Door with my wife, which was discussed on the latest episode of Lost in Translations. Before my trip, I scheduled six reviews for my blog, all being women in translations. I am pleased to say, that I am pretty much up to date with reviewing, as I have made the choice not to review every book I read. I want to spend more time writing essays and improving my writing abilities so while reviews seem to be an important aspect of my blog, I hope this means that I will write more.

Tasmania was an amazing experience, I have not been there before and I really enjoyed the cold weather. I got to experience snow falling for the first time, most non-Australians might think this is not as special as I make it out to be. The book I read while away was Oneiron; it was not for me, and I really struggled to get through it. I understand what Laura Lindstedt was trying to do by putting these women in this situation and have them reflect on their lives but I was disappointed. I did however start Aracoeli and I am having a much better experience. Elsa Morante is a wonderful writer and for those who do not know her, she is one of the authors that influenced the writing of Elene Ferrante.

During my trip I visited bookstores every chance I got, which did leave me with a much heavier bag by the end of the trip. I wanted to limit my purchasing by focusing on expanding my women in translation collection but I failed at that. So many stores seemed to have a very limited selection for translations, which is fast becoming the biggest downside of my reading niche. The feeling of leaving a bookstore empty handed is heart breaking for a book lover. However, if I started to complain about the amount of books I did end up purchasing, I would be lying to myself. I have so many amazing books to read, I just need to find the time.

After Tasmania we stopped in Melbourne for the weekend and attended the Melbourne Writers Festival. This year had an amazing line up and I think I want to write about what I saw in a different post. The festival has inspired me to be more active in my blogging and to write more pieces, so let’s see if it pays off. The final book I read before going back to work was Sofi Oksanen’s novel Purge. Previously I read When the Doves Disappeared which I liked but did not love, honestly, I think Purge is a far superior novel. Because it was Women in Translations month, I think it is necessary to check my reading stats to see if I have a balanced reading life this year. I am pleased to say that 75% of my reading have been translations, which is indicative of my passion. With 52% being books written by women. I hope to maintain this balance, but I know how easy it is to have the statistics change.

Happy reading everyone.

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The Door by Magda Szabó

Posted August 28, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 2 Comments

The Door by Magda SzabóTitle: The Door (Goodreads)
Author: Magda Szabó
Translator: Len Rix
Published: NYRB Classics, 1987
Pages: 262
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Magda Szabó is one of those authors I have wanted to read for a very long time; her novel The Door seemed like the perfect place to start. This Hungarian modern classic explores the relationship between two very different women. Our narrator Magda is a writer and intellectual who is constantly in and out of favour with the government, while Emerence is her strong and opinionated house keeper. The novel starts with Magda waking up from a dream to face a haunting fact, that she killed Emerence.

The first thing that sticks out to me in this novel is the relationship between Magda and Emerence. I am drawn to the raw approach Magda Szabó took to explore this relationship. There are times where there was heat and toxicity between the two but then there were other times of affection and love. It is rare to read a relationship written so well. I often feel like the nuances of a relationship are never explored to any satisfactory level. In The Door we get to experience the ups and downs of this relationship. There are many times I felt frustrated by their actions but that ends up just being their different personalities butting heads.

Throughout the novel, a door is used as a metaphor to give the reader a more in depth look at these two characters. At times the door is a symbol of secretiveness, especially when it comes to Emerence. However there are times that it is used to symbolise the current state of their friendship. Whether they were actively distancing themselves from each other or they were close enough to share in a secret. The effect of the door becomes an important symbol of understanding Emerence. The fact that she would greet her guests outside and never let them inside shows just how close the two have become when she lets Magda inside.

Set between 1960 and 1980 in Hungary, it is important to know that this was when the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party was in control. If you explore this relationship of Magda and Emerence under a Marxist lens you will see where I am going here. We have Magda representing the intelligentsia and Emerence is a symbol of the working class. The idea behind the Bolshevik Revolution was to make sure people were treated the same. Without the working class, the October Revolution would have never happened. However it was the intelligentsia that took leadership, essentially creating a new social class system, thus negating their whole revolution.

In the end of The Door we are left we are left with the emptiness of losing Emerence. This woman seemed to possess inhuman strength and drive and her death left such a big hole not only Magda’s life but the whole community. If I was to compare Emerence death with the state of Hungary at the time of writing this novel. I would say that this is a reflection of the Hungarian economic and political reforms which let the country into mounting foreign debts. The cause of this points to Hungary’s outdated manufacturing facilities the inability to produce goods that were saleable on world markets.

It might be my love for Soviet literature, but my approach to this was very much a Marxist approach. Like many books in the Soviet era, I think The Door explored so many interesting elements of the country’s political and social issues. From religion to the class struggle and then the death of the working class. Analysing a novel and looking at the historical context really opens up the book for me. I know some people do not appreciate literary theories but for me it is a way to bring the text to life. Marxism and psychoanalysis are the two methods I seem to use the most, but I do not think I am equipped to fulling analyse Emerence. Although Magda might be easier, same name as the author, a writer, an enemy to the Communist Party, sounds autobiographical to me. Which makes me wonder, what was she trying to say with the death of Emerence?