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György (George) Konrád: Koóra (Stonedial)

I suppose every writer is entitled to a little bit of self-indulgence now and then and this is Konrád’s. It is the story of Janos Dragomán, a famous and world-weary Hungarian writer, who has returned to his home town. The home town is the fictitious town of Kandor though it is the name of a city in the Superman comics.

I can recall my past anywhere in the world, Dragomán nonchalantly comments and this novel is, to a great extent, about an old writer unwittingly clashing with his past, not in a serious, world-shattering way like Proust or Hartley but in a sort of laconic, almost casual way. For example, Dragomán finds that he has a daughter and a grandson. He takes it fully in his stride as though he has always known it and not just discovered it. He dredges up past loves (Laura), past battles (the 1956 Revolution) and past friends, particularly the current mayor, the current university rector-cum-deputy mayor and the media expert. And all the time Konrád/Dragomán is tossing in witty asides, clever remarks, philosophical musings.

Even when it goes wrong – which it does more than once – he takes it all in his stride. The 1956 Revolution and his role (and the role of his friends) comes back to haunt him and even leads to the death of one of his friends but he really doesn’t seem too bothered, except for the inconvenience it might cause him. He is a famous writer and is not to be bothered with these annoyances. Despite all of this, the book is really quite fun, as Konrád writes well and wittily and the clash of Communist Hungary and post-Communist Hungary makes for an interesting theme.

Publishing history

First published in Hungarian 1969 by Magveto, Budapest
First published in English 1978 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich