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Csendes forradalom a golyóstoll regénye by…
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Csendes forradalom a golyóstoll regénye

by László József Bíró

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We, Hungarians love to BIRG (bask in reflected glory) and also have a slight superiority and inferiority complex at the same time. At least that's how I would explain that Hungarians keep track of famous Hungarians, people who are well-known outside the borders of our small country. We like to think that, considering the Hungarian population to that of the world's, Hungarians contributed a disproportionately more to the development, art and sports of the world than one would expect. This idea fills us with pride. I certainly felt that pride ever since I was a kid and was told that the name “Biro” is world famous and that's how everyone refers to the basic ball-point pen.

“Biro” is the family name of the Hungarian who invented this device. As a kid it was confusing for me though that the logo I saw on these pens said “BIC” and not “Biro.” Later I learned and understood that it meant “Biro Crayon”. Imagine my dismay when decades later my belief was shaken as in the US nobody I met was familiar with the name/brand “Biro” or the word “biro-pen” or “biron.” (A Hungarian encyclopedia claims that these are the names the pen is known in English and French speaking countries respectively.) I suspect that my grandfather's information, who worked in London 50 years ago for three years, was either outdated by now or the fame he informed me of was limited to the UK only. Either way the pens and the company are still around. You use(d) it too regularly.

László József Bíró wrote an autobiography by the title “Csendes forradalom: a golyóstoll regénye” (Quiet revolution: the novel of the ball-point pen). I read it in Hungarian, (translated by Tibor Kóródy and Lajos Pálfi), not in its original Spanish. Why, you may ask, did a Hungarian write an autobiography in Spanish? The answer points us to the irony of aforementioned BIRG. Most famous Hungarians we keep track of did the deeds they are known for in foreign lands. The often unacknowledged tragedy is that for any number of reasons they couldn't flourish in their original homeland. Reasons include the two world wars, but also envy and malice from other Hungarians. Mr. Biro was of Jewish origins and his life, like other Jews, was being made more and more difficult and insecure by stringent restrictions and anti-Jewish laws before World War II. In 1938 he converted to Protestantism and later that year he emigrated with his family to Paris. Two years later he moved to Argentina, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Ladislao José Biro as he was known for his last 45 years (he passed away in 1985) published the Spanish version of his book in 1969, while the Hungarian translation appeared in 1975. Thus it obviously doesn't cover his later years. But he saw plenty of action in his early years to write about. He worked as a painter, sculptor, accountant and journalist. These fields sound quite far from each other but as he told the story one thing led to another in a natural succession. You could also put a pessimistic spin on it saying that he did whatever he could to survive in hard times. He thought in more positive terms and let the readers believe that he was just drive to try new things and explore his skills and talents. He certainly had many, although I have never read any autobiographies where the protagonist wouldn't be a master of life in one way or another. Nevertheless his adventures as an artist (of life) provided a fun reading and made the prewar era look quite exciting.

It was his work as a journalist that triggered the idea to create a writing device that could be used anywhere, under many conditions without leaking ink. He devotes a considerable amount of time/space of the 200 page book to the engineering challenges of the job and how he and his friends overcame them. He also goes at length explaining his legal difficulties after he lost ownership of the patent and huge amount of money with it. Eventually he got vindicated, but this part of the book sounded much more bitter than the rest. As a whole though the book was written with good humor and full of funny anecdotes.

Biro also explained the title of his book. If you think about it you have to agree with him that having a device that allows you to write anywhere on a peace of paper changed our lives profoundly. In combination with notebooks and post-it notes our capacity to move from an oral culture to a written one expanded. You may argue that by now, with the help of smart phones, we stepped over to the next phase of this (r)evolution. Others would say that these devious devices rob us from our capacity to develop both our short and long term memory. I agree with both statement. I do not know where this shift from verbal to written may lead us on the long term, but I thank Mr. Biro for his invention as it made my life much easier. And now I know how it came about.
1 vote break | Jun 17, 2010 |
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