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Author's page

( 1942 )

» The End of a Family Novel (1977)
» Stage (1982)
» A Book of Memories (1986)
» The Bible (1988)
» Parallel Stories I.-III. (2005)
» Home-Front Diary (2006)
» Siren Song (2010)
» On a Fantastic Trip (2011)


1942 born in Budapest
1961-63 studies journalism and photography
1965-69 works as a journalist at a Budapest magazine
1965 first stories published in the literary journal "Új Írás"
1982 guest of the DAAD Artist's Program in Berlin
1991 reading in Germany from The Book of Memories
1993 member of the Széchenyi Arts Academy

His prizes include:
1978 Milán Füst Prize 1980 Kelemen Mikes Society`s Prize (The Netherlands), Irodalmi Figyelő Díja, 1985 Attila József Prize, Theatre Critics` Prize 1988 Tibor Déry Prize, 1989 Prize for Hungarian Arts, 1990 Gyula Krúdy Prize of the Soros Found., 1991 Österreichische Staatspreis für Europäische Literatur, Television Critics` Prize, 1992 Kossuth Prize 1995 Leipziger Buchpreis zur Europäischen Verständigung, 1998 Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, Vilenica-díj (Slovenia), 2001 Artists` Prize, Soros Foundation, 2003 Kafka Franz Prize (Czech Rep.), 2005 Pro Urbe Budapest Prize, 2006 Sándor Márai Prize, Palládium Prize, 2007 Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic, Cross

The End of a Family Novel

Egy családregény vége (et. 1998 The End of a Family Novel) A novel evolving in concentric circles, exploring the depths of Jewish past, and aiming for a synthesis of the mythical, historical and political reality. The viewpoint is that of a child, Peter Simon, who tells about his relation with his grandfather and their life in Communism. The novel ends with a one-word sentence: "No." "Representing the Jewish-Christian tradition, the family's history comes to an end and this, in turn, symbolizes the final and hopeless failure of that tradition." (Miklós Györffy, The Hungarian Quarterly, Winter, 1997)


Színtér (Stage) Three one-act plays, respectively entitled Takarítás, Találkozás, Temetés (House Cleaning, Meeting, Burial). "It is not the story that I am interested in in the theater. Nor am I interested in so-called ideas. That is a matter for literature and philosophy. In theater it is the system of relations emerging between live bodies that I am interested in. The image, although not in the sense of the word in which it is used in the fine arts. I am interested in the motion picture of live bodies... I tried to rely on the musical qualities of language. I wanted to create a subtle linguistic medium, in which actors are required to speak with the inner connections of their entire bodies." (Péter Nádas)

A Book of Memories

Emlékiratok könyve (et. 1997 A Book of Memories) It took Nádas eleven years to write this monumental novel of multi-layered and elaborate narratives. The author's aim was to write "a recollection of several people separated by time, somewhat in the manner of Plutarch's Parallel Lives." The main character is a young writer, who is engaged in a love triangle with a German actress and a young poet in East Berlin, and who is writing the memoirs of his childhood in Stalinist Hungary. There are two other narratives, one told by the hero of the novel he is composing; and one told by a childhood friend. "But you should know that A Book of Memories is one of those truly moral books, a novel written out of and within this century dominated by the malignant two-headed coin of the organized Fascist and Communist lie and where the familiar literary response has echoed Pilates, right down to the washing of the hands." (Thomas McGonigle, Washington Post, July 20, 1997) "Communist Eastern Europe has not usually been seen as a subject for Proustian reflection ... But in A Book of Memories, Péter Nádas, one of Hungary's pre-eminent literary figures, has accomplished a remarkably interesting feat: he has transposed the novel of consciousness to the Socialist universe, and closed the gap between prewar modernism(inflected here by post-modern psychoanalysis) and Eastern Europe." (The New York Times Book Review, Eva Hoffman)

The Bible

A Biblia (et. The Bible) A novella about a young boy, his family and their maid in the years of the darkest Communist oppression and poverty. The story is told by the boy himself, who narrates his own cruelty, sexual curiosity and loneliness with equal objectivity. "Seldom has a contemporary author registered instances of human vulnerability and emotional idiosyncrasies with such seismographic precision. His own vulnerability is ever-present and at the same time critically reflected upon. Literally nothing escapes Nádas' attention; this is as true as the complete absence of ideology. His is the patience of an observer and portraist who from the outset discredits preconceived opinions and rigid thought structures." (Neue Züricher Zeitung)

Parallel Stories I.-III.

Párhuzamos történetek 1. A néma tartomány. 2. Az éjszaka legmélyén. 3. A szabadság lélegzete. (Parallel Stories. Vol 1. The Province of the Dumb. Vol. 2. In the Depths of the Night. Vol. 3. A Breath of Freedom) JELENKOR, PÉCS, 2005. 429 + 387 + 693 PAGES The three volumes of Péter Nádas s latest novel throw up the greatest of all challenges that Hungarian literature has faced in the recent past. Close to twenty years in the making, it is a long awaited work from an author who is justly regarded as one of Europe s most distinguished novelists. In the few months that have elapsed since publication, it has become a best-seller in Hungary, though it has come in for a decidedly mixed critical reception, with dark mumblings at literary gatherings, though few to date have chosen to make their reservations public. Any work as innovative and experimental as this was always liable to induce a wide range of antipathies through its radicalism, its unwieldiness, its open-endedness, its seemingly irritating rejection of conventional solutions and, not least, on account of the frankness of it handling of sexuality and the human body. So far, the works of Musil, Proust, Hermann Broch, Elias Canetti and Dostoyevsky have been mentioned as kindred enterprises. Through the parallel stories of numerous characters, who in many cases are unacquainted with one another, the work immerses itself in relationships in twentieth-century Hungarian and German society and thereby attempts to delineate what mankind is like or, more accurately, what it is. Structurally, the book does not conform with any logical or, above all, symmetrical schemes. Through shared locations, characters or motifs, the stories are nevertheless linked and thus they cohere into a vast pageant, though it is one without a focal point, and the stories do not lead anywhere: no explanations, no final judgements, no lines of development or decline are offered. The plot is constructed around the histories of two families: one the Lippay-Lehrs, who are Hungarian, the other the Döhrings, who are German. These two main threads set off, but they do not alternate in any methodical manner. Only irregularly do they link up to one another via specific events or figures, yet all the same they impinge on one another through analogous correspondences (for instance, through the keywords of murder, poverty, Jewishness, racism, masturbation, nakedness, smells, and the secret, the riddle). The novels opens in Berlin in the year that the Wall came down: a corpse is found in the Zoo. The police investigation meets with no success to the very end of the text, but at its centre is Carl Maria Döhring, who is seeking to come to terms with his family s past, including the atrocities of the Hitler era. An important part of the extraordinarily tangled Budapest-based family story is a love affair between Ágost Lippay and Gyöngyvér Mózes, the segmentation of a description of whose lovemaking over around one hundred and fifty pages of the book constitutes one of its most stunning technical accomplishments. As it unrolls over three decades, from the 1930s to the 1960s, this family story invokes a cavalcade of Hungarian society, from a provincial Jewish timber merchant of the pre-war period to a Gypsy road-mender of the Kádár era, from the genteel poverty of déclassé upper-class ladies under socialism to political functionaries of proletarian origins. It is startling how closely the mentalities of the Horthyist and Kádárist worlds converge in this social snapshot. For example, the old professor who is head of the Lippay-Lehr household had been a luminary among racial theorists in Hungary before the war yet by the Fifties had become a chief adviser to the Communist government, and then likewise there are the sterling services that concierges supply irrespective of the political stripe of the party in power. The German strand serves to counterpoint and nuance the Hungarian one, with the plot deliberately constructed in such a way that the relationships between the characters should focus attention on the absurdities that underpin the social conditions. The lover of Jewish-born Kristóf Demén in the Sixties, for example, is the same Klára Vay whose father Horthy placed in charge of the deportations of the Jews. The novel encompasses elements of a detective story, a family saga, a love story, a Bildungsroman and a concentration-camp novel, as well as including the germs of an unwritten story about the 1956 Hungarian revolution, quite apart from its profound engagement with the problems of fascism and the Holocaust. The characters are always presented in their full physical reality, with the reader being kept regularly informed about their bodily ills as well as their sexual desires. The work makes the case for portrayals of human characters being impossible without the riches of sensuality. The novel s passionate anthropological interest is rounded out by excursions into aspects of genetics, psychology, criminology, sexology, pathology, ethology and theology, which just add to the subtlety of the author s stance that the world s and mankind s secrets cannot, ultimately, be unravelled. Hungarian literature can boast few truly great novels. Parallel Stories is certainly one of them. Csaba Károlyi, Élet és Irodalom The most indefatigable and radical analyst of Hungarian literature guides us into a homogeneous thicket of seemingly remote cases and constructions. József Tamás Reményi, Népszabadság this novel is a failure, an enormous failure by a great writer the work as a whole appears critically unresolved. István Margócsy, 2000 what makes Parallel Stories such a remarkable book is precisely the fact that he forges a monumental structure out of failure, not settling for anything less than failure. Ákos Szilágyi, 2000 Writer, dramatist, essayist and photographer, Péter Nádas was born in Budapest in 1942. He made his literary debut in 1967 with a volume of short stories entitled A Biblia (The Bible), which was duly followed by Kulcskereső játék (The Key-Hunting Game, 1969) and Leírás (Description, 1979). Nádas first came to wider notice in Hungary in 1977 with the novel Egy családregény vége (English translation: The End of a Family Story, 1999) and Emlékiratok könyve of 1986 (English translation: A Book of Memories, 1997). Other works include the essay-novel Évkönyv (Yearbook, 1989), the extended essay Az égi és a földi szerelem (On Heavenly and Earthly Love, 1991), Párbeszéd. Négy nap ezerkilencszáznyolcvankilencben (Dialogue: 4 days in Nineteen Eighty-nine, 1992, with Richard Swartz as co-author), and a volume of film novellas Vonulás (Procession, 1995). In recent years Jelenkor, his publisher, has been in the process of bringing out new, uniform, critical editions of the oeuvre to date, including the collected short stories (Minotaurus, 1997), his reviews (1999), the plays (2001), Esszék (Essays, 2001) and Talált cetli és más elegyes írások (Found Paper-Slip and Other Miscellaneous Writings, 1992). Among his other works are Valamennyi fény (A Little Light, 1999) and Saját halál (One s Own Death, 2004), which combine his own photographs with texts.

Home-Front Diary

JELENKOR, PÉCS, 2005. 429 + 387 + 693 PAGES One of the greatest living writers in Hungarian literature has pulled together a selection of his more recent essays in this volume. Most of the pieces stem from the period when he was giving final form to Parallel Stories, the 2,000-page novel that was published towards to end of 2005. The first essay is an attempt at a scrupulous circumambulation of the legendary wild pear-tree in the author’s garden in the village of Gombosszeg, near the southern Hungarian town of Zalaegerszeg. One of the later pieces concerns the memoirs of Ilona Gyulai Edelheim, the widow of István Horthy (son of Admiral Miklós Horthy, regent of Hungary from 1920 to 1944). Also to be found are writings about Imre Kertész ‘s work and his subject on the occasion of the award to him of the 2002 Nobel Prize for Literature; Leni Riefenstahl’s bursting into tears in 1939 on becoming “an eyewitness to the punitive measures being inflicted on civilians” in Poland; the autobiography of economics professor János Kornél; an evening that Vaclav Havel spent with Madeleine Albright; about the symbolism of the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York; a young man who was expelled from the Gáspár Károli Reformed Church University in Budapest on account of his homosexuality; the death, significance and problematic acts of Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla); the asceticism of painter Ilona Keseru½. Further pieces assess the importance of Nádas’s own master, the Hungarian writer Miklós Mészöly (1921-2001), on the occasion of his death; about Hungarian Ádám Nádasdy’s poetry; about Zsuzsa Bánki who “has written a novel in German that is Hungarian to the core” and a novel written by Marc Martin in Hungarian which is French to the core; Lucien Hervé’s painterly idion in photography. In his essays Nádas employs exactly the same sensitivity, analytical depth, strict logic and artistic approach to portrayal as he does in his fiction writing. Nádas’s forthright stances are nuanced by stories that are full of character, delicate descriptions; the phenomena that he examines invariably have a significance that goes wider than the specific instance. As have his arguments. “What is Nádas’s language like? It is philosophical, but since there are problems with using the Hungarian language in this respect, by his sensual commentary he creates a philosophical terminology that would make the language highly circumstantial.” Zsolt Láng, Élet és Irodalom “The most indefatigable and radical analyst of Hungarian literature guides us into a homogeneous thicket of seemingly remote cases and constructions.” Emese László, Élet és Irodalom

Siren Song

After a hiatus of several decades, Péter Nádas has once again written a theatrical work. In 2007, in the framework of a “European Capital of Culture” program, the six city theaters in Germany’s Ruhr Valley—Schauspielhaus Bochum, Schauspiel Dortmund, Schauspiel Essen, Schlosstheater Moers, Mühlheim’s Theater an der Ruhr, and Theater Oberhausen—invited six writers from across Europe to retell Homer’s epic poem Odyssey under the collective title Odyssey Europa. The participants, each of whom were assigned a particular episode and theme, were from Great Britain, Poland, Hungary, Germany, Austria, and Turkey. In light of his works to date, in which the erotic nature of death looms large, Péter Nádas was asked to focus on the errant Odysseus and the sirens' seductive singing. Beyond each being limited to a work that would take no more than two hours to perform, in all other respects Nádas and his fellow writers were free to proceed as they wished. Embarking on the project with enthusiasm, Nádas chose to work within the framework of the classical genre of the satyr play, and this decision fundamentally shaped his own play. Describing the result, which he titled Siren Song, is a formidable task. Péter Nádas transfers the action to the present and depicts history as a nightmare. The world has been continually exploited over the centuries both by the ravages of war and by mercantile greed. At the centre of the action are the sons of the ancient heroes, who are growing up fatherless and develop into a brutal gang who leave a trail of blood throughout the story. At the end, the men rape and murder the beautiful sirens. That said, it is not so much a work of action but, rather, of a condition. It comprises not dialogues, but sequences; as if it were an orchestral work, albeit one in which language is the instrument. Nádas took a radical approach. The setting is the end of the world. To quote the modifiers by which the author himself characterizes his play's "characters," Siren Song is populated by "damned, ragged, and wretched" beings that comprise both language and physical form and are adrift in a delimited expanse of nothingness. We see shadows, abstractions. The author adapted his piece to a postdramatic mode of theater: it takes place in a single, enormous, chaotic space, and in this timeless space every act of utterance creates its own new space. The characters are simultaneously thousands of years old and completely of the present day. There is no time in this work, and yet time is everywhere—as if the murmur of time itself can be heard from between the rocks. Nádas also fashioned an experimental language for his play. Indeed, he went so far in mellowing his usually stern, sinewy sentences so as to produce an end result that isn’t even prose, but an undulating sort of free verse. Beyond the new directions he explored, however, the conceptual essence of Siren Song may seem familiar; for it represents a reorchestration of the disenchanted cultural criticism we meet with so often in his essays—only that this new melody sounds even more hopeless and merciless than what preceded it. Betrayal, debauchery, decay, contagion. Our only hope lies in the genre itself—the satyr play, which Greek theaters often performed after a tragedy by way of comic relief. But if this is relief, what will the next work bring?

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