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Istvan GÁLL
( 1931 - 1982 )

» The Old Man (1975)
» The Stud-Farm Manager (1976)
» Iron Age (1980)


1931 born in Budapest
1949 graduates from grammar school in Budapest; becomes a draughtsman
1951 reports for army service
1954-57 contributes to Szabad Hazánkért (Our Free Homeland) and to Néphadsereg (People's Army) magazines
1958 script editor for the Hungarian Radio
1968 animation editor
1971 contributes to Új Írás (New Writing)
1982 dies in Budapest

His prizes include:
1967, 1976 Attila József Prize, 1978 Kossuth Prize

The Old Man

István Gáll returned to his works many times, and his heroes and crucial subjects reappear. In this novel, as in former works, he concerns himself with the very difficult situations under the new political regime after World War II, the personal integrity or moral failure of workers promoted by the Party, and the experiences of the frontier sentries used as sappers between 1951-53. “The Old Man” is the eldest member of the Magos family (portrayed in other novels), at one time a unionized miner, a fighter for the labour movement, a faithful believer in the system. At the beginning of the novel, he works in retirement as the guard of a pump house at the backwoods, considers his work important and broods over the past. One day he receives an assistant, a young man who has been disabled in a mine and who has been educated by the new regime, and Magos tries to explain and pass on to him the values he believes in. But it turns out that the pump house has officially long been out of use; the boy laughs in Magos’s face, and the old man collapses and ultimately dies of humiliation. In the fate of the old Magos, István Gáll draws the psychologically and historically authentic portrait of a certain sort of man of the time: long wishing to be a useful member of society, impatient, absolutely honest, but eventually bitterly disappointed and lonely.

The Stud-Farm Manager

István Gáll achieved particular success with this novel, which can be seen as forming one part of a trilogy, along with Patkánylyuk (Rat Hole) and Csapda (Trap), all three depicting the same period (1945-51). Through closed, laboratory-like analysis of key characters and situations, he captures the soul-destroying effect of the period. Spanning a few months, the story that takes place on the stud farm of Mohor near Hungary’s the southern border; the state considers the farm’s few remaining horses useful. The horses are looked after by ex-officers of the former regime and the dissenters of the present people’s democracy; they show great expertise and form a closed circle. Party worker Jani Busó is appointed farm manager to oversee them. The one-time servant boy, with all his good intentions, attended only a Party seminary. The conflict is obvious. In the time of “sharpening class struggle”, Busó’s elder brother, the president of the village Soviet, wishes him to reveal the conspiracy on the stud farm. After several moments of conflict, the offended Busó indeed alerts, but becomes frightened when those in power want to close the stud farm. In spite of the prohibition, he warns the officers of what is coming, but they consider him a traitor and shoot him. When they want to flee across the border, however, they themselves are shot down. The dramatic novel was adapted for a popular film by András Kovács in 1977.

Iron Age

This series of stories is linked by one goal: to examine the political mechanisms that most cripple the psyche. All the stories take place during the 1950s and portray the life of sentries and sappers. In the first cycle “Aknákon” (Walking on Mines), one story stands out for its dramatic tension and economical wording, “Végtisztesség” (Funeral Rites): a corporal is mortally wounded during a military exercise; his fellow soldiers smuggle his body home to his widowed mother despite the political instruction to bury his body on the army exercise grounds. The second cycle, Kalendárium (Calendar) follows the voice of the chronicler, and moreover, before individual stories, and similarly to Hemingway’s vignettes in his book In Our Time, as a genre of their own, there are short texts: the pages of an old calendar that prescribe the agricultural duties for the month, and under the heading “the diary of the farmer”, Lance Corporal István Magos fills the lines with his notes on the (historical-political) events of the year 1953 and on his personal (awkwardly put) remarks. The individual novels are inserted between these diary entries, portraying life in the barracks near the border. There is no comment in them either, only sheer facts standing as mementoes. The last three writings of Iron Age are autobiographical; here the writer speaks about his homeland, his family, youth and work. With this book, István Gáll added importantly to modern Hungarian fiction.

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