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House of the Executioner: Tales from the Golden Age

Reimagining home in epic terms In her first work of literature, House of the Executioner: Tales from the Golden Age (A hóhér háza, Történetek az Aranykorból – regény), the distinguished theatre critic Andrea Tompa (b. 1971) sets her sights on the grand epic. Born in Cluj-Napoca, Romania—that cultural-economic center of Transylvania which Hungarians (including the city’s sizeable population thereof) know as Kolozsvár—Tompa devotes her first work of fiction to reimagining her hometown. Not even while Romania was led by the dictator Nicolae Ceauºescu did this colorful city lose its luster, and this book’s smart, cultured narrators thoroughly scan the spaces of “inner freedom” that lurked within the country’s otherwise constricting, dictatorial atmosphere. The book comprises thirty-eight chapters and as many different sentences that feel like novels in and of themselves; that is to say, Tompa adopts the style of Thomas Bernhard aptly, telling her story by way of musically structured colossal sentences and epic fugues. Each and every sentence goes practically to the limit of breathing itself, of what is possible to express. The novel’s other virtue, alongside its meticulously crafted language and its richly detailed, informative story is its theatrical nature, its vivid immortalization of dramatic situations. In the theater of memory, every city is made up both of stages and behind-the-scenes places—comprising a fiction that seeks to trace the elusive trails by which we remember the past.

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