A bitter pill to savor Edina Szvoren (b. 1974) is one of Hungary’s most promising young epic writers. Ironically enough given its title, “estrangement” is for all intents and purposes the byword in her debut collection of short stories, A Toast to Friendship (Pertu). Story and narrator are separated by irreconcilable distances, cognitive and mental gaps. In Szvoren’s world of prose, mendacity is not some ploy or escapade, but a bleak fact of everyday life—like tattered wallpaper in a flat in a tower-block apartment building, charged with covering up an even homelier wall. Consequently, even truth occupies a dimension strikingly different than the one where we might otherwise expect to find it. In Szvoren’s stories, the token catharsis is to be found in those bits of truth that emerge momentarily in a sentence here or there. Mercy without mercy. Grounded though it is in the simple, everyday world, Edina Szvoren’s prose is lavish amid its tragic undertones. And, alongside her book’s many promising stories, there is already to be found a masterpiece—namely, the title work, “A Toast to Friendship.” In her richly detailed recounting of a rather dour New Year’s Eve celebration in a broken home, Szvoren avoids resorting to any psychological trick of the literary trade. Even as she writes of bodies, distances, and alienation, we read about psyches, nearness, and affinities. This is the author’s formidable and credibly executed narrative achievement. Her prose isn’t exactly unadorned, and yet it is lean. She deftly switches narrative perspectives in moments—cinematically, from sweeping panoramic shots to close-ups. In singular fashion Szvoren maps the themes of family traumas, bleak childhood festivities, absentee fathers, and loneliness. Edina Szvoren treads her own path, and she does so very well. The most restrained, coldest, but nonetheless emotion-rich “chamber stories” in this work remind us of the bitter taste of a pill that, instead of swallowing, we have chosen to chew.Download contents in PDF!