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( 1902 - 1986 )


1902 born in Csütörtökhely; schooling in Lőcse (then Upper Hungary; today Levoèa, Slovakia); studies medicine at the University of Budapest, first writings appeared in the newspaper Est (Evening); becomes a critic for the most influential literary journal, Nyugat (West)
1938 chief editor of the literary department of the Révai Publishing House
1950 after the publishing house is brought under government management, he is dismissed, later only managing to get a job in the technical department
1957 director of the Szépirodalmi Publishing House
1973 during Book Week he manages to start a new and most influential series of books called Magyar Remekírók (Hungarian Classics)
1986 dies in Budapest

Major Prizes:
1937, 1939 Baumgarten Prize, 1962, 1978 Attila József Prize, 1963 Kossuth Prize

Story on Love and Death

Endre Illés was a successful playwright, novelist, critic and publisher; this book was perhaps his most popular piece. It deals with a 300-line section of the great ancient Indian epic Mahabharata (of 200,000 lines), in which the princess Savitri must conquer death. The style is refined and fantastic; the love story is unforgettable. The epigraph of the story hints at the writer’s reasons for dealing with this topic: “One of the ancient (and perhaps most beautiful) of Indian hymns relates the love story of an immortal fairy and a mortal young man. For four years they lived in mutual love, but one night the fairy ‘disappeared as the first ray of dawn’. The young man was mad with love and loss, and started out to look for her; but only after long years could he catch a glimpse of the unfaithful fairy in the mirror of a lake. ‘Come back, I cannot live without you, I will kill myself in this very water,’ the young man begged. ‘I won’t go’ the fairy answered coldly. ‘You should already know that you can never trust a woman. A woman’s heart is the heart of a hyena.’ And she disappeared. The young man never saw her again. [But] Savitri’s love is the exact opposite of this: the woman reaches out and saves her lover from death. The feeling that once awakened in her heart is an unquenchable flame.”

Mortals and Immortals

One sentence from the epigraph of the book is enough to demonstrate the moral stature of the writer and literary man: “Writing is grace; it is a most personal affair which must be utterly untouched by the conditions of our life. We must work and sacrifice things in order to be able to write.” (1944) The book was only published after the writer’s death, but it covers a very important part of his oeuvre, his unpublished essays and critical writings which had only appeared in various newspapers and magazines. The writer knew well that “the public is indolent”, therefore he decided to call people’s attention to real literature, the writers whose works have become classics in Hungary; yet, as a real lover of the theatre, he often dealt with lesser but more popular authors who were very much influential in the cultural life of the thirties. The book, edited by Judit Kónya, consists of three parts: Mortals and Immortals (essays, portraits), Light Realism (book reviews) and Why Should We Write Plays? (theatre review). The reader comes to experience the atmosphere of an age as well as work and personalities of the authors. Those who wish to know more about Endre Illés himself should also read the other posthumous book published by Judit Kónya, [“...talpig nehéz hűségbe” [József Attila—best translation?], an ample collection of the writer’s personal writings (diaries on literature and such painful matters as the death of his wife, and also excerpts from Illés’ letters) supplemented with photographs of the author and the leading literary figures of the age.

Christmas in the City

As the writer once confessed, “[I]n my dramas and comedies it was always the critic who had the loudest voice; in my critical writings I could not silence the voice of the prose writer. Among my own stories my favourites are those in which characters are dragged into unknown depths.” Illés rejected the critics’ calling him “the Hungarian Maupassant”. Although he was a trained doctor, in literature his aim was not a surgical objectivity but the improvement of morals; he chose to write about the world he knew (the inner city of Budapest) in order to show its faults and annihilate them. Belvárosi Karácsony, a book that appeared as the 41st volume of the Millennial Series of Hungarian Classics, collects the writer’s most successful short stories as chosen by the literary critic Mátyás Domokos. The selection begins with a naturalistic story dating from the writer’s youth (dealing with an exam at the medical university) and ends with the fantastic tale of Savitri. The style is always very light and elegant, and the situations are unforgettable even when they are not dramatic. “It is not enough if a writer has keen insight: he must be sensitive to nuances as well. Endre Illés is perhaps our only writer who has this special instinct...for creating original literature out of a topic that is traditionally considered a matter for snobs and pulp fiction writers.” -István Sőtér

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