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Relations by Zsigmond Móricz
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Relations

by Zsigmond Móricz

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Set in Hungary in the 1930s, this is a simple yet profound morality tale about corruption and abuse of power. Pista Kopjass is a small town official suddenly elected to the powerful position of Chief Counsel. One moment he is just another efficient bureaucrat carrying out his duties, and living a quiet, if uneventful life with his wife and children. And the next moment finds him in the midst of dizzying events which he quickly realizes are beyond his control. He came into the job with his ideals of service and dedication, and progressive ideas about community development, education, and livelihood promotion. It seems his old dreams of being able to bring progress especially to the lives of peasants and the poor would finally come true.

Things move very quickly, the story spans only a couple of weeks, and we see his utter confusion, dismay, and helplessness as he is introduced into the shocking world of nepotism and greed among the town fathers. He finds himself in the middle of a big scandal involving very influential people which in his new position he thought he had the authority and responsibility to make right, but in fact was in very serious danger of being corroded by outright, shameless bribery from these very same people. At the same time, poor relations from near and far, people from his past with which he only had passing acquaintance, suddenly appear and ingratiate themselves to him. Everybody needed a patron -- whether for a job, a promotion, a business. One word from him, and things will fall into place. After all, he is relation, and one only goes up or about in life through relations. This was simply how things were.

Pista is torn between his ideals and ambition. He refuses to be sucked in, but he also can't help himself. We are shocked with the decision he takes towards the end.

This novel is a stinging portrayal of the moral decay that characterized provincial governance and society in Hungary after the Great War. The characters and situations, however, are no different from our own experience today, wherever we happen to be. These complex themes are, unfortunately, still very relevant to our times. Are we to just stand and watch? To what extent can we, ordinary citizens, do anything about such seemingly intractable issues as corruption and abuse of authority? Is integrity impossible to be maintained in the highest reaches of power?

A very thought-provoking social and political commentary. ( )
1 vote deebee1 | Nov 2, 2009 |
Very interesting character portraits, though the machinations of Hungarian provincial life gets rather tedious. ( )
  mareki | Nov 25, 2008 |
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