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Journey by Moonlight (NYRB Classics) by…

Journey by Moonlight (NYRB Classics) (edition 2014)

by Antal Szerb (Author), Len Rix (Translator), Julie Orringer (Introduction)

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In the 1930s, a couple honeymoon in Italy. Mihaly and Erszi are dutiful conformists but their encounter with a dark and magical Italy threatens their uneasy harmony. They are separated at a station and Mihaly starts a mystical and dazzling journey. Erszi leaves for Paris to contemplate her failed marriage.… (more)
Title:Journey by Moonlight (NYRB Classics)
Authors:Antal Szerb (Author)
Other authors:Len Rix (Translator), Julie Orringer (Introduction)
Info:NYRB Classics (2014), Edition: 1st, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

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Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb

  1. 10
    Van Sandor Marai tot Magda Szabo by Jolanta Jastrze̜bska (gust)
    gust: Deze bundel essays bevat een verhelderende bespreking van deze roman.

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English (31)  Italian (3)  Dutch (2)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (37)
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On honeymoon in Italy, Mihály chooses a solitary nocturnal ramble in the back alleys of Venice over the pleasures of the bridal bed. It doesn’t take a psychology guru to realise that the marriage is not off to the best of starts. His wife Erszi knows that, this being her dreamy and eccentric Mihály (rather than her practical first husband Zoltán), the explanation for his erratic behaviour is most likely complex and slightly illogical. And that’s exactly what it turns out to be.

After a (not so) chance encounter with an old acquaintance - János Szepetneki – Mihály decides to recount to Erszi his obsessive youthful friendship with siblings Tamás and Éva Ulpius, to whose “ring” he belonged together with said János and the ascetic Ervin. Oiled by a bottle of Italian wine, and egged on by Erszi’s insistent questions, Mihály implicitly reveals (despite his protestation to the contrary) that his relationship with Tamás and Éva had strong erotic overtones and that this might have something to do with his strange and evident discomfiture with the marital state. What is certainly clear is that Tamás’s eventual tragic death left a long-term mark on the close coterie of friends.

This long “psychoanalytic” session reminded me of a very different novel – Murakami’s [b:Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage|19549052|Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage|Haruki Murakami|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1392761109s/19549052.jpg|24593525] . And, like Murakami’s, this novel does develop into a “pilgrimage” of sorts - its first part ends with Mihály, not altogether innocently, contriving to catch a wrong train and separating himself from Erszi. In the subsequent parts of the book, we follow Mihály as, against the backdrop of an Italy exotic, magical, seductive and frightening, he tries to recapture the decadent aura of his youth.

Antal Szerb’s 1937 “Journey by Moonlight” (or, to give its title in its literal translation, “Traveller and the Moonlight”) is one of the best-known of modern Hungarian novels. It certainly deserves to be much better appreciated outside Szerb’s native country. Like all great classics, it is a multilayered work which lends itself to a variety of readings. It is, in its own weird way, a comedy of manners, with a streak of playfully sardonic humour always bubbling just beneath the surface. It is also a novel of “magical realism” written before the term was invented. It is an exploration of pre-World War II society – indeed, at its most obvious and superficial level, it presents to us a cast of characters who are all trying, unsuccessfully, to escape the bourgeoisie they find so suffocating.

But, as translator Peter Czipott points out in the insightful afterword to this Alma Classics edition, a major theme in the novel is Szerb’s exploration of “nostalgia”. What Mihály is after are the dreams and ideals of his youth, now sadly replaced by humdrum, everyday life. But is it at all possible to go back in time? At one point towards the end, one character warns another not to try to live “someone else’s life”. But, the novel seems to be telling us, our youthful selves are as distant from us as “someone else”.

Szerb was not primarily a novelist, but a literary scholar who published respected works on the history of Hungarian and world literature. He lived for a time in Italy – his descriptions of the country are partly autobiographical but, in a quasi-postmodern twist, they also (knowingly) reflect common literary portrayals of the Bel Paese which Szerb knew so well through his studies. Indeed, one cannot help feeling that this is not the Italy of the Italians, or even that of the Rough Guides and Lonely Planet. This is, by turns, the darkly fascinating and haunting Italy of the Continental Gothic novels, the decadent Italy of fin-de-siecle writers (Mann’s [b:Death in Venice|53061|Death in Venice|Thomas Mann|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1410132000s/53061.jpg|17413130] comes to mind), Goethe’s sun-washed Land, wo die Zitronen blühn...

Journey by Moonlight might not always be an easy read, but it certainly is one which repays the effort and which is likely to reveal new depths if revisited. This Alma Classics edition is highly recommended, not only for its fluent translation, but also for its useful explanatory notes. ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Mar 5, 2021 |
Well, this is a tricky one to review, for anything I say here will count as a spoiler and I must choose either to spoil it all or to remain silent. For the sake of the reader yet to come, I will opt for the latter, and conclude this briefest of reviews by saying that this book is one of the most magnificent - and personally important - books that I have read in the last decade. Thoroughly thrilling and incredibly moving, the story told here truly resonated and will continue to do so with me for a long, long time. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Nov 16, 2020 |
This is very confusing--Szerb's book reminds me so much of the English novel* (of the ironic-E. M. Forster paradigm), but is just slightly off. This might have something to do with the problems of translation; the prose just isn't that crisp, and the gentle-irony thing does depend on the crisp prose thing. Other confusions include the deep religiosity ('spirituality', if you must), which is equally unlikely in the Forsterian world, and the marketing, which isn't Szerb's fault, but rest assured that, despite the dark cover image, this "dreamlike adventure" is not at all "like Bulgakov's Master and Margerita," except that they both have very slow, dull sections towards the start.

Well, persevere through the extremely long narrative-within-the-narrative chapter, which you can probably skim with little loss. After that chapter, "Journey's" slight offness becomes endearing, anyone who likes Italy will spend half their time wishing they were reading the book in Italy, and the irony will carry you through. If, of course, you're not keen on that kind of novel, this won't do much for you.

*: Lest you think this is a stupid thing to say about a Hungarian, know that Szerb wrote "An Outline of English Literature," as well as a history of world literature. I'd love to know more about the Hungarian context, and to read more novels in this vein, if it's a Hungarian tradition as well. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
Remek történet örökbecsű gondolatokkal – igazán élvezetes volt olvasni.
A kedvenc mondataim:
Mi a civilizációtól már olyan nagyszerű lelki apparátust kapunk készen, hogy életünk túlnyomó részében el tudjuk felejteni, hogy egyszer meghalunk; lassanként a halált éppúgy félre fogjuk tolni a tudatból, mint ahogy már félretoltuk Isten létezését. Ez a civilizáció.

Éva nem változott semmit. A szerelem mindvégig megőriz egy pillanatot, azt a pillanatot, amikor született, és akit szeretnek, sosem öregszik meg, szerelmese szemében mindig tizenhét éves marad, és kócos haját, könnyű, nyári ruháját ugyanaz a barátságos szél borzolja egy életen át, ami akkor fújt, abban a végzetes pillanatban.

És ha az ember él, akkor még mindig történhetik valami. ( )
  gjudit8 | Aug 3, 2020 |
Read 2015. ( )
  sasameyuki | May 12, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
There is something almost divine about this - and that Szerb's great intelligence didn't force him to produce a work of arid perfectionism makes it all the more remarkable. (I salute Rix's wonderful translation, which makes it look as though the book was somehow written in English in the first place.) It's got everything - great travelogues, the messiest study in the world, daft, rich American art students called Millicent ("'Millicent,' he said. 'There's someone in the world actually called Millicent!'"), great jokes about suicide, and superb aperçus: "November in London isn't a month - it's a state of mind." Pushkin Press, in bringing this to our attention, have excelled themselves.

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Szerb, Antalprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dandoy, GyörgyiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Esterházy, PeterAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hargitai, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orringer, JulieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rix, LenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Viragh, ChristinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Xantus, JuditTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zaremba, CharlesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zaremba-Huzsvai, NataliaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
On the train everything seemed fine.
"There's nothing wrong with you," said the doctor, "just horrendous exhaustion. What were you doing, to get yourself so tired?" "Me?" he asked meditatively. "Nothing. Just living." And he fell asleep again.
Mihaly had not wept because he had no relations, just the opposite - because he had so many - and he feared he would not long be able to preserve the solitude he so much enjoyed in the hospital.
He knew that there was no going back. The whole horde of people and things pursuing him, the lost years and the entire middle-class establishment, fused in his visionary consciousness into a concrete, nightmarish shape. The very thought of his father’s firm was like a great steel bar raised to strike him.
You start off as Mr X, who happens to be an engineer, and sooner or later you’re just an engineer who happens to be called Mr X.
The discussion was becoming interminable. The matter could in fact have been resolved quite simply if all those around the table had been equally intelligent. But in this life that is rarely given.
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In the 1930s, a couple honeymoon in Italy. Mihaly and Erszi are dutiful conformists but their encounter with a dark and magical Italy threatens their uneasy harmony. They are separated at a station and Mihaly starts a mystical and dazzling journey. Erszi leaves for Paris to contemplate her failed marriage.

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