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Ervin Sinkó
( 1898 - 1967 )

» Optimists (2010)



Likewise setting out from Vojvodina—albeit in an earlier era, when it was still part of Hungary—is the monumental novel Optimists, by Ervin Sinkó (1898–1967). This massive, nearly 800-page work, newly released in Hungary in 2010, illuminates a harried historical moment—the close of World War I and the revolutionary changes that followed—with the utmost literary aspirations: by applying the toolkit of “realism” in the best sense of the word. In Hungary, the years 1918 and 1919 saw a seismic shift of history practically every single day: A catastrophic defeat in the war and the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was followed by the establishment of a democratic republic, the nation’s occupation by foreign forces, and the annexation of its outlying territories. That’s not to mention the emergence of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic that sought to bring order to the situation after the democratic republic failed utterly at the task: a communist revolution that met with an inglorious end with the takeover by the Christian-nationalist Kingdom of Hungary under autocratic regent Miklós Horthy who, using methods worthy of a police state, finally brought political order to a nation that had shrunk overnight to a third its former size. All the above events are illuminated in Optimists from below, as it were, through the story’s everyday details. As committed a communist as he was, Sinkó rejected the ideology’s every contortion large and small. And so in his writing he confronted the era’s ideological and moral contradictions with uncompromising honesty. (When he served as the political leader of a small town during the communist regime of 1919, he sought to reeducate extreme-right-wing political prisoners by reading them excerpts of Dostoevsky novels.) With a host of colorful characters emerging from its masses, Optimists is a magnificent, spirited, richly detailed, sweeping novel.

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