Last update:

Author's page

( 1969 )


1969 born in Budapest
1988–1993 studies at Kossuth Lajos University, Szeged, then from 1990 at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest; graduates in Hungarian and German Philology
1994–1996 editor of literary periodical Határ
1995–present lecturer in 20th century literature at Modern Hungarian Literature Department, Eötvös Loránd
1996 obtains doctorate from the arts faculty of Eötvös Loránd University
1996–2005 editor of literary periodical Pannonhalmi Szemle
2000–2003 editor of literary periodical Nagyvilág
2003–2007 editor-in-chief of literary periodical Irodalomtörténet
2004 his novel Lazarus! appears in German translation (Wilhelm Droste, merz&solitude;, Stuttgart)

Major prizes:
1993 DAAD Scholarship at Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, 1994-1995 MTA Scholarship, 1996 The Soros Foundation's Literary Scholarship, 1997 YADDO two-month Writer's Scholarship in Saratoga Springs, New York, Zsigmond Móricz Scholarship, 1998 Miklós Radnóti Prize, 1998-1999 MTA Bolyai Scholarship, 2000 Franz Werfel Scholarship at University of Vienna, 2001 Bolyai Scholarship, 2005 Ernő Szép Prize, 2006 Attila József Prize

Glass Fish

Gábor Schein is one of the most original figures of his generation; he is always open to experimentation. In the thematically varied poems of his fifth poetry book, for the first time in his oeuvre, a fragmented family history appears (for instance in the title poem), and a recurring topic is found in the enigmatic story of the disappearance and return of the alphabet. Réja Vanicsek notes, “The disappearance of the letters is not only equal with the loss of written culture; it also refers to the break-down of human communication, to the birth of some lonely, reserved, timeless and visionary future (or past), where it is not relationships or the remembrance of the past that is aimed at but forgetting.” The titles above the texts are in brackets, something Schein spoke about in an interview: “The bracketing of the titles turned up in Glass Fish. It was some kind of a revoking, since those poems were dictated not a little by revokings and retreats. With the brackets I meant to avoid that the titles should be superior to the texts, that they should govern or direct reading forcefully in one specific direction.” “[T]he poems of the book are all miraculous signs, as each one shows the dual nature of miraculous signs: the poem is the key to a secret, it opens and reveals; yet it is also the lock on the secret’s door, guarding the inexplicable and the dim.” -Ferenc Takács

The Book of Mordechai

Schein’s first novella, The Book of Mordechai, was the story of the destiny of three generations of a Hungarian Jewish family, including one of its descendants, a little boy named P. P. His grandmother has him practise his reading with the Book of Esther; thus the present-day family’s life can be interpreted on the model of the Old Testament story. In its themes and motives the novella forms a strong unity with the following two books. “For me, the crucial question was how fiction handles breaks, omissions and lapses of memory. Because of these, family history always retreats into myths. /…/ What I found exciting was how these breaks and tears so alien to narration could be formed into a narration in a way that this fragmentary state should remain the governing feature of the text.” -Gábor Schein


According to commentary in (retouching), the book relies on “the allegorical framework of the photographer’s techné, of making, developing, cutting and retouching pictures.” The book’s antecedents were the author’s grandfather’s book written in 1953 for technical students (on making, copying, mending and retouching pictures), and a bundle of photos found lying in the street, which inspired from Schein fragments of stories he otherwise could never have related. Family history appears alongside and within the sweep of world history; prose poems with bracketed titles record impressions from the Second World War and the Holocaust, through the Fifties, to the recent past.


Schein’s first novella, The Book of Mordechai, was the story of the destiny of three generations of a Hungarian Jewish family, including one of its descendants, a little boy named P. P. His grandmother has him practise his reading with the Book of Esther; thus the present-day family’s life can be interpreted on the model of the Old Testament story. The new short novel draws on another Biblical story, that of the raising of Lazarus from the dead in the Gospel according to John. Péter (P.P., now grown-up) uses the text to set up a memorial to his now dead father (referred to as M.), though in such a way that it restores him to life. Two strands of text alternate: in one the son speaks directly to the dead father (not unlike Franz Kafka in his letter to his dead father), in the second, in a more detached fashion, he speaks about him. The tension and rhythm of the two registers give the text its dramatic strength. On his death bed the father forbade his son to speak about him (“don’t write it down”), but the son disobeys his father entirely and in so doing both affirms and denies the validity of the ban. From examining the father’s background, we discover the story of a petty-bourgeois Jewish family in Hungary during the Kádár era. Nothing much happened to either the father or the mother; but the family failed to talk over the traumas of the disastrous era, with shame and self-hatred serving only to reinforce the silence, the failure to speak. The figure that emerges most strikingly from the family is the paternal grandfather, a printer-photographer who at least did something with his life, having written a manual on photo-engraving technology, in which the following is found: “It can happen that a plate has to be made of an original that cannot be suitably photographed but without being allowed to rectify or retouch it.” This sentence bears an important relation to the procedure adopted in the novella, with the son striving to provide a portrait of his father in line with his grandfather’s symbolically intended guidance: he would not be allowed to retouch it. In relating the family’s history, though, Péter falls back on legends, the stories are constantly being broken off, and it is questionable to what extent the obligatory smoothing over of the breaks (likewise a form of retouching, after all) is capable of restoring them. “The story is a single struggle for the Father’s resurrection in order that he may proclaim, in spite of all hostility and opposition, what Rilke did: ‘Hebt den Stein!’ ‘Lift the stone!’” -Béla Bacsó, Élet és Irodalom “[This work is] derived from the ideas that Martin Buber expounded in his essay ‘Me and You’, the method of duplication, the sharp contrasting of You and s/he, the object of address and the object of general experience, within the outlines of one and the same personality.” - László Márton, Élet és Irodalom “Sons will relate the stories of their Fathers, all protests by the latter notwithstanding. This book deals harrowingly with one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century: the death of love.” -Szilárd Borbély, Élet és Irodalom

Songs of Complaint

Songs of Complaint. Poems JELENKOR, PÉCS, 2005. 77 PAGES The songs of complaint from which this volume takes its title occur in four blocks that are interspersed among the other poems, thereby bestowing a regular order on the collection as a whole. There are three lengthy cycles of 17, 19 and 17 poems, and apart from these cycles, there is an opening poem, first of all , a preface to the songs and then, after the fourth block of songs appears the closing poem, inlet , which responds with its motif of refuge to the flight motif of the opening poem. The songs of complaint cite humankind s age-old, collective laments, setting these alongside the dilemmas of individual life. The volume thereby speaks in a voice that is both general and personal. The contents of the day-to-day life of the figures whose voice speaks in these poems (children, wife, family, a dying father) emerge in the same way as the major questions of our shared being that we all come to experience in the course of our individual fates. A poem on the death of a pet fish, greenish water , attains almost biblical heights of exemplariness; a mundane walk takes on a philosophical hue in ramble . Besides the motif of taking a jaunt, whether strolling in a wood, roaming about the streets, or jogging, a bird motif also develops (hang-gliding, city pigeons, a run-over pheasant, a budgerigar that has escaped captivity). Both of these being on the move, searching and flight, the soul taking off come together in ramble , where the narrator, having recounted the experience of his ramble, starts a list of the German names of birds for fellow poet Szilárd Borbély. Strolling aimlessly, tantamount to submitting to a goal that transcends us and precisely by doing so achieving fellowship with the loneliness of others in its sense of loss, Songs of Complaint feels its way toward love; in becoming more relaxed the poet has somehow become more fervent, more lively, in this, the best of his volumes to date. -József Tamás Reményi, Élet és Irodalom

Tradition—continuance and betrayal

Gábor Schein (b. 1969), who over the last 5-6 years has shown various aspects of his versatility as a poet, writer of short stories, essayist, translator, and historian of literature, recently published a volume under the title Traditio—folytatás és árulás (Tradition—continuance and betrayal, 2008) which examines how modernity’s legacy is passed on, and the contradictions that inhere in it at various levels. Schein’s perspective spans the set of literary institutions of the first half of the 20th century, the history of failed attempts at assimilation by Hungary’s Jewish population, and the dialectics of own and foreign in the context of literary translation. The book describes the antinomies that are continually being produced by the concept of linkage by tradition (politics vs. literature, Hungarian vs. Jewish, aesthetics vs. ideology, old vs. new, own vs. foreign) both in their historical context and in their ever-changing, interacting variants.

The Autobiographies of an Angel

One of the most talented figures of the middle generation of contemporary Hungarian literature, Gábor Schein creates works of the highest order in all genres. A university instructor of literature and German studies, he first made his name on his nation’s publishing scene as a poet; and then, after adding literary translations and essays on literature to the mix (including studies in world literature), he began writing fiction and dramas. But, in his case, such versatility is not important in and of itself. Schein’s multifarious oeuvre does not resound as some deliberate, contrived feat of virtuosity; what is important is how these different aspects of one man’s literary output reflect on various surfaces, and how they impact each other without his works of literary prose coming across as “too smart” or “too theoretical.” And yet behind the story of The Autobiographies of an Angel lie other concerns; not least, philosophical ones along with an intriguing new perspective on the history of the novel. Not surprisingly, the narrator of Schein’s latest work is an angel who tells his two life stories. While these autobiographies are far apart in both space and time, in the process of coordinating their motifs the author produces a coherent novel nonetheless. One story is the biography of an eighteenth-century German man named Johann Klarfeld. The young Jewish man is compelled to leave his home after being ostracized and proceeds to travel throughout the western corner of Europe. His story is told in a language that prevailed before modern-day novels came to be. Ostensibly an “education” or “formation” novel that recounts the protagonist’s years of ramblings, it is a Bildungsroman with a difference; for there is as yet neither such a thing as “psychological language” or a “psychological perspective.” The book’s other protagonist, József Barta, was born in 1943 in a village near the city of Miskolc in northern Hungary. Here, to convey twentieth-century Hungarian history—and, among its salient episodes, the Holocaust and the 1956 Revolution—the author adopts a fragmented, mosaic-like novelistic technique for its telling, one that credibly and movingly conveys the destructive effect and tragic consequences of suppression, traumatized silence, and forced oblivion. No longer does psychology have a language or perspective. And yet these two stories come together as a single novel—one that illuminates the man and the angel, the theology of man and the anthropology of the angel, the familiar and the foreign, history and liberty. It does so simultaneously in precise, essaylike terms and with crystalline poetic language. One of the finest, most complete, and most loveable books of the past year, Autobiographies of an Angel really was written with angelic irony.

Download contents in PDF!