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Zsófia BÁN
( 1957 )


1957 born in Rio de Janeiro from where her family returns to Hungary in 1969
1976-81 studies English, French, and Portuguese language and literature at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
1981–85 assistant director at International Studio of MAFILM (Hungarian National Film Co.)
1985- teaches literature, art, and visual culture at the English department and later (from 1992) at the American Studies department of Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
Her areas of research include 19-20th-century American literature, Critical Theory, literary theory, American philosophy, 20th-c. American art, gender studies, and visual culture.
Her original and creative essays have appeared since the 1990s.
She made her debut as a fiction writer in the 2000's.
Writer, literary critic, and essayist.
One of the most original interpreters of contemporary Hungarian culture.

Selected Prizes:
2007 Péter Balassa Prize, 2008 Attila József Prize, 2009 Palladium Prize, 2009 Mozgó Világ Prize, 2012 Tibor Déry Prize, 2013 Üveggolyó Prize

Night School: A Reader for Adults

Zsófia Bán's fiction debut is one of the most interesting Hungarian books in recent years. Night School (Esti iskola) is defined in the subtitle as a "reader for adults." The book is divided into sections according to school subjects: History, Geography, Music, Russian, Home Room, and so on. The teaching material aims at no less than (re)discovering the delight and freedom of reading and rethinking the flexible essay genre. Bán rewrites classic stories (Dangerous Liaisons, Elective Affinities, Fidelio) in novel ways, turning one into an e-mail epistolary novel, another into a game of table-tennis, and the third into a blog opera, and she gives literary and cultural figures (Newton, Flaubert, Manet, Frida Kahlo) a spin to take a good look at them. This democratic textual space has room enough for innovative accounts of traumas such as the Shoah or 9/11. What validates the great venture of Night School is Zsófia Bán's sensitively and originally articulated learning, her wit and stylistic exuberance, and a constant sense of personal presence that comes across as perfectly natural, while being thoroughly self-aware. The book is also a veritable art object. The cover and the marginal illustrations inside (which interconnect with the texts in exciting ways) attest to the creativity of Ágnes Eperjesi. Finally, another great advantage of this school is that you can never be late for it. "With exceptional astuteness, Zsófia Bán plays her game simultaneously in two directions -- any phenomenon she touches she immediately cuts down to (infantilized) size, yet by deploying and depicting this infantilization through a subtle and sharp satire, she also liberates us." István Margócsy, Élet és Irodalom

Test Packing

It seems as if Zsófia Bán's third book somehow encapsulated the first two. The essays and studies in her Amerikaner (2000) probed questions of American culture, and Night School brought the genre of the essay into the realm of fiction. Test Packing is a carefully and deliberately arranged volume of essays, reviews, travel writing, and memoirs, and it is the wonderfully precise and proportionate arrangement that endows the texts with a narrative dimension. The ambitious aim of this narrative layer is to articulate the personal and collective problems of the culture of memory (or rather a "culture of silence" as far as Hungary is concerned) with both empathy and analytical sharpness. This is why travel emerges as the central motif of the book: travels between image and text, between different poles of space and time, and, in the third section, beyond time and space. The texts of this final section are both essays and memorial tributes -- texts of crossing over in the truest sense. W.G. Sebald's oeuvre, a recent long novel by Péter Nádas, paintings by El Kazovszkij, the absent presence and invisibility of the Shoah, the Oedipal conflict of Hamlet, the representation of children in Dickens' fiction, and Susan Sontag's implacable personality. Or the travel journals: about a divided, then more or less reunited Berlin that is trying to reconstitute itself from the traumas of the past(s), about a fermenting Singapore that keeps erasing its past as it constantly tilts towards the future -- all topics of crossing and carrying on. If you unwrap this package, what you will find inside is yourself. Or your absence, as the case may be. Zsófia Bán's figurative and precise essay idiom holds the texts and the system of thoughts firmly together and keeps urging the reader to unpack this book.

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