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Ferenc SZIJJ
( 1958 )

» The Day of the Runner (1992)
» Crust Tower (1999)
» Prince Pitch-Marsh (2001)
» Bread Stickers (2007)


1958 born in Szombathely, in western Hungary
1977 matriculates at Szombathely
1978-84 studies Hungarian and German at Szeged University
1984-88 librarian at the Eötvös Loránd University library, Budapest
1988-96 founds the prestigious literary periodical Nappali Ház (Daily House)
1996 editor of an Internet magazine; translates contemporary German writers

His prizes include:
1989 Móricz Scholarship, 1991 The Art Foundation's Prize for the Best First Book, The Soros Foundation's Scholarship, 2000 Tibor Déry Prize, 2001 Attila József Prize

The Day of the Runner

The day of the runner (A futás napja, 1992) Ferenc Szijj’s second book followed his successful A lassú élet titka (The Secret of Living Slowly, 1990), a book of poems. The second chapter of short prose pieces opens with a poem that includes the lines: Day by day I strain to work To stay above the surface of existence. Whether a text belongs to the world of the imagination, as do most of the shorter stories, or to the world of experience, as do the longer ones, their protagonists strain desperately to keep above the surface of existence, instead of sinking down into their own memory and emptiness, lest some meaning or explanation should escape from the objects and the relationships around them and shed light on the repeated stories of these “invalid”, lonely heroes. The extremely reserved narrators in these short pieces represent their own, rather closed world. Sometimes the texts are archaic like the romanticism of Büchner, in an alienated, colder version; at other times they recall Kafka’s or Beckett’s reduced language and world of poverty.

Crust Tower

Crust Tower This slim book, the best of Szíjj s volumes of poetry to date, is a harrowing attempt to come to terms with childhood traumas. Each of the six long stanzas of free verse marks a shift in location. Much of the time a nameless character comes and goes in the metropolis. He stops by lakes, graveyards, taxicabs and trees propped up by metal struts. He inspects them thoroughly and talks to himself. Who is the speaker? Someone who mumbles to himself and tries to articulate the simplest things and principles that structure the world. His language is basic to the point of being awkward. He repeats himself and some of his sentences remain incomplete. Despite their apparent insignificance, each event is frightening and provides the descriptive elements that coalesce to give a particular meaning to each new episode. The most dramatic section is perhaps the third, story of how the mother went insane one night. They are just circumstances, they belong to something, but I don t really know what, he says before giving a detached account of the family members deaths. The texts are puzzling, and give a memorable reading experience.

Prince Pitch-Marsh

Prince Pitch-Marsh Szijj s gripping, eventful and funny fairy-tale is peopled by animals, vegetables, objects and human figures with whimsical names. Prince Pitch-Marsh has to save Princess Maria Petalkin from the clutches of the Nightmare King a task made all the more difficult by the king s intimidating servant, Squirreltail. The members of Maria Petalkin s household among others, Katie Vaxler, the Transylvanian Naked-neck fowl; Tivadar Apafi, the garden gate; the Cucumber sisters; and Little Orphan Vasalinovich, a ripening tomato do more to hinder than help the hero in carrying out his heroic deed. The novel is in fact constructed around the artifice of delayed consummation: every time the reader believes that Prince Pitch-Marsh is on the verge of rescuing the Princess, something unexpected intervenes. Everyday things that might be familiar to a child curling-tongs, a toothpick, a thimble are transformed into objects with miraculous powers. The enemy s magic ring operates with a PIN code, but our hero prefers to fight with natural weapons (at one point, for instance, a sharp-eared magic handkerchief makes an appearance). In the tale it is not a simple struggle between good and evil, more a matter of docility (and often enough naïve simple-mindedness) being pitted against violence and lust for power. The playful language of the entrancing text is liberally sprinkled with diverting, ironical verbal inventions. The book is likely to appeal to children of elementary school age (6-14 years old).

Bread Stickers

The author s playful (and, as it turned out, unrealised) basic idea for these free-verse pieces, free from classical constraints, was that he would write a very short poem every day, rather as if he were doing this on the stickers that are traditionally stuck on loaves of bread in Hungary to denote the bakery and the date of baking. That s why the titles given to the pieces are days of the week, with most poems (13 in all) being entitled Friday. In these poems, which are not at all short on reality, the narrator generalises his personal depression, trying to get to grips with the meaning of existence through the concepts of void, slowness and maniacal delusion. The frequently heartbreaking poems mimic a surrealistic viewpoint. The desires and struggles against the outside world of an ordinary, fallible figure are conjured up. The dreamlike mode of expression presents the vicissitudes of a sensitive but emotionally bottled-up person. Szijj s most recent volume of poems since the critically highly acclaimed Bark Tower of eight years ago, which the author considered to be his major work now takes over that role. József Krupp, Élet és Irodalom

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