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Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy
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Metropole (1970)

by Ferenc Karinthy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (11)  French (3)  All (14)
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Depressed me deeply. Even so I loved it for presenting a dystopian vision that comes very close to metaphorical truth. And for all that, it's also remarkably funny. ( )
  poingu | Jan 29, 2015 |
If you've ever been in a foreign country where you don't know the language you'll know that it's an uncomfortable situation. Luckily with modern technology and the rise of international franchises around the world it's hard to be completely cut off from things you're familiar with. What if you ended up in a country where you had no points of reference though, and where anything but the simplest hand gestures inspired confusion? It would be terrifying even if you were perfectly safe. That's the type of terror Metropole taps into.

The book is sort of a one trick pony, but the one trick is pretty good. The main character tries a bunch of logical ways of trying to get in contact with someone who he can communicate with, and he only occasionally behaves stupidly (wasting his money in the beginning, for instance). Overall the one-note nature of the novel holds it back from greatness- it might have been stronger in novella form. Still, if the idea of the inability to communicate brought to kafkaesque extremes sounds appealing to you then give this one a try. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
Budai falls asleep during a plane journey on his way to a conference, and groggily makes his way into the city on arrival. But it turns out that the city is not Helsinki, nor indeed anywhere recognisable. Even though Budai speaks bits of dozens of languages, no-one he finds can understand any of them, and there is nothing familiar in the language that he hears around him. Everywhere is crowded, people are too busy to let him try and communicate with them, and the flows of people are such that he can't always get to where he is trying to go. Even his hotel room is hard to find: "He met no one in the corridor as he searched for his room, wandering to and fro, counting forward and back in the attempt to locate room 921. There was always a doorway or a junction that broke the sequence and he could not pick it up again".

What would you do in this situation? Try and find an information counter, or a travel agent, or an embassy - someone with whom you might find a means of communicating. "But how was he to locate any of these agencies? Who was there to ask in the dreadful whirl of traffic where no one had the time to address his problems but left him muttering idiotically to himself? They must speak other languages in banks and financial institutions and, possibly, in various public offices, but where to find such places, how to identify them among the mass of buildings, when he couldn't make the slightest sense of the notices on them?"

This is a brilliant portrayal of a nightmarish situation. The long, run-on sentences drop us right inside Budai's head as he wonders desperately what he can do (but are broken up enough with short, clear sentences so that they don't become overwhelming), and so we can understand his twisted logic as he looks for ever more hopeless ways out - dialling various combinations of telephone numbers which "might be public lines", leaving notes in different languages scattered around the hotel, even trying to work out the local language from a close reading of the phone book or a newspaper. All the time he is striving to hang on to the fact that he does not belong in this city. Because the only way to survive in such an uncaring and hostile society is not to get used to it, not to lose hope, to hang on to your own mental acuity and your individual desires, and to continue to resist, however futile it may seem.

That said, one of the most chilling moments in the book is when Budai finds a tiny scrap of hope - a split-second encounter with another Hungarian - which is then torn away from him. And for a long time Budai does lose his hope, giving up trying to talk to anyone, turning to drink and formless rage. But yet another incomprehensible occurrence in this city of incomprehensibilities reminds him that people need to stay greedy for life.

The book is pitched precisely at the point where the absurdity of the situation is both funny and terrible. For example, there is a running joke about the fact that even with the one person who is prepared to try and communicate with Budai, he is unable to figure out her name, because the sound seems to change each time she says it - so each time he thinks about her she has a slightly different name. This is funny, but at the same time such a stark indicator of his isolation.

I really enjoyed this book (except for a slight dip in interest in the middle, as Budai's situation didn't seem to be evolving). As I was reaching the end my mind was full of possibilities for how the author would be able to bring the narrative to a satisfactory conclusion, none of which seemed entirely satisfying. And indeed, the ending was none of them. I thought it was perfect. ( )
1 vote wandering_star | Mar 17, 2013 |
Budai gets on the wrong plane and finds himself in the wrong place. A linguist by trade he feels confident on a quick resolution but is frustrated at every turn and thrust into an increasingly overwhelming and incomprehesbile city.

Once I relaxed and stopped thinking what Budai should be doing to escape and accepted that at heart this was a tale of language and modern living, I started to enjoy it. The star is the city, a never-ending place, overflowing with rushing citizens bent on their own personal lives and performing rituals twisted by our lack of understanding. Budai's relaxed attitude allows the city to unfold, conjuring up some wonderful moments: the frustration at trying buy food, the incomprehensibility of a religous ritual or metephorical sports game. Budai's constant attempts never become repetitive, Karinthy manages to keep the tale fresh throughout (in fact I preferred the latter half of the book). It's not a book for lovers of resolution or hard action but it is an interesting meditation on urban life. ( )
  clfisha | Sep 18, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ferenc Karinthyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Karinthy, JudithTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Karinthy, PierreTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Szirtes, GeorgeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Looking back on it later it could only have happened because Budai had gone through the wrong door in the confusion at the transit lounge and, having mistaken an exit sign, found himself on a plane bound for elsewhere without the airport staff having noticed the change.
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A linguist flying to a conference in Helsinki has landed in a strange city where he can't understand a word anyone says. As one claustrophobic day follows another, he wonders why no one has found him yet, whether his wife had given him up for dead, and how he'll get by in this society that looks so familiar, yet is so strange?… (more)

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