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Satantango by László…

Satantango (original 1985; edition 2013)

by László Krasznahorkai (Author), George Szirtes (Translator)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7832022,181 (3.91)57
"Set in an isolated hamlet, Satantango unfolds over the course of a few rain-soaked days. Only a dozen inhabitants remain in the bleak village, rank with the stench of failed schemes, betrayals, failure, infidelity, sudden hopes, and aborted dreams. At the center of Satantango is the eponymous drunken dance."--P. [i].… (more)
Authors:László Krasznahorkai (Author)
Other authors:George Szirtes (Translator)
Info:New Directions (2013), Edition: Reprint, 288 pages
Collections:Your library

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Satantango by László Krasznahorkai (1985)


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» See also 57 mentions

English (18)  Dutch (2)  All languages (20)
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Blah ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
A powerful open text, one rife with both fire and human failures. As I quipped early, it's a Faulkner noir in the Magyar mud. What ripens and stings is more akin to Beckett: a waiting for IKEA, with ideological trappings.

The novel opens essentially with a bell in the night. Then it rains.

The contemporary reader will ascribe a historical arc to the symbolism, unfortunately the novel was written in 1985. INXS didn't script the Velvet Revolution. Many phenomenon are repositioned after the fact.

The novel in translation appears in the wake of Bela Tate's imperious adaptation. The language is a live wire amidst the sodden decay. This should be pursued at all costs. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
4.5 stars and really could be 5 stars but I'm comparing it against Melancholy of Resistance and it's just a shade less impressive. ( )
  AaronJacobs | Oct 23, 2018 |
Laszlo Krasznahorkai: Satantango

(David H, Maria S, Mariko, Susan C, Susan M, Larry, Martina, Oxana)

Satantango (1985) was Krasznahorkai's first major publication. It is, at one level, a stark metaphor for the crushing despair of life under the Communist regime, which no doubt accounted for part of its popularity in Hungary, if not why the authorities even allowed it be be printed. Krasznahorkai won the Man Booker International in 2015 for his body of work.

A jacket blurb from James Wood describes Satantango as "profoundly unsettlingly" and it is--unsettling in its bleak depiction of human nature, proclivities, and promise, and unsettling in its writing style. The action, such as it is, is set in the grounds of a derelict 'Manor' (some sort of failed collective) in the Hungarian countryside, post-WWII. It is essentially a small village of hovels masquerading as homes, wth the inhabitants masquerading as people with any real prospects.

The opening sentence of the novel sets the tone throughout: "One morning near the end of October not long before the first drops of the mercilessly long autumn rain began to fall on the cracked and saline soil of the western side of the estate (later the stinking yellow sea of mud would render footpaths impassable and put the town too beyond reach) Futaki woke to hear bells." The rain is unrelenting throughout the novel, soaking the homes, the countryside, and the people, washing out skies, colours, and hopes.

In the first couple of pages, Krasznahorkai uses short, trenchant descriptions and observations to set the mood of the place and the people: "mousehole-sized kitchen window....the only light to be seen was the one glimmering in the doctor's window whose house was set well apart from the others on the far side, and that was only because its occupant had for years been unable to sleep in the dark....burned out remnants of a locust-plagued summer...as if the whole of time were a frivolous interlude in the much greater spaces of eternity, a brilliant conjuring trick to produce something apparently orderly out of chaos, to establish a vantage point from which chance might begin to look like necessity...the east, once the home of a thriving industry, now nothing but a set of dilapidated and deserted buildings...first rays of a swollen sun broke through the topmost beams of a derelict farmhouse from which the roof tiles had been stripped..."

The Manor, as a physical and psychological space, represents a derelict past, a miserable present, and a parlours future. The half dozen or so protagonists live without harmony and without help, without wisdom or even much sense, prone to false hopes perpetrated by charlatans. And the charlatan appears in a character named Irimias, for whom everyone has been waiting for delivery from their blasted lives, but who might be a secret police agent, or a con-man or, maybe, Satan himself. I don't think it matters who, or what, Irimias is; the 'Satan' in the story is the ungraspable hopes of everyone in the novel; these provide the motors for mad decisions and actions. At the end of the novel we discover that the Doctor, who has been a close observer of all the players is, in fact, not just a reporter of activities (to the secret police?), not just a chronicler, but (in a post-modernist twist) the writer of the novel and, as such, he constructs and deconstructs the lives of the characters:

"He scribbled feverishly and was practically seeing everything that was happening over there, and he knew, was deadly certain, that from then on this was how it would be. He realized that all those years of arduous, painstaking work had finally borne fruit: he had finally become the master of a singular art that enabled him not only to describe a world whose eternal unremitting progress in one direction required such mastery but also--to a certain extent--he could even intervene in the mechanism behind an apparently chaotic swirl of events!" [Italics in the original]

So where and what is reality?

Krasznahorkai does not believe in traditional sentences and certainly not in periods; phrases run-on sometimes for pages, twisting and looping around, sometimes back on themselves. Krasznahorkai has argued that people do not think in sentences, so it is futile to portray their thoughts, or even to convey third-party descriptions, like that. He at least provides quotation marks to assist in tracking speakers as there are no paragraph breaks.

So, with this sort of synopsis, why read such a novel? Because, despite the bleakness, the people are real in their strengths and weaknesses, their hopes and fears. Many people live such bleak lives, in many different circumstances, and understanding is a step towards empathy for their state, and understanding of the circumstances that brought them to it. There is a chapter entitled "Unravelling" that describes, with painful perception, the descent to death of a little girl, lost and unloved in life; unsettling though it is to read, it is psychologically acute in its depiction of one life that is wasted and that we know is multiplied time and time again in reality. The book is worth reading for the writing in this chapter alone.

Krasznahorkai can be a struggle, but he is an intrepid and intriguing writer who pushes the boundaries of how a writer can try to convey reality. Virginia Woolf called upon the novelist to find new ways to represent consciousness: "Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness." Krasznahorkai aspires to the level of writing.

In his novel, War and War, Krasznahorkai echoes Woolf when he has the main protagonist posit: "The manuscript was interested in one thing only, and that was reality examined to the point of madness, and the experience of all those intense mad details, the engraving by sheer manic repetition of the matter into the imagination, was, and he meant this literally, Korin explained, as if the writer had written the text not with pen and words but with his nails, scratching the words into the paper and into the mind." This--"reality examined to the point of madness"--is a good description of Satantango.

This is a book that could be parsed to a considerable degree. It is worth the challenge and the reward.
1 vote John | Jun 28, 2017 |
Gray and bleak humor typical of a communist allegory, this book nevertheless has a vital intensity and urgency to it. I'm sure the translation is high quality but still feel I missed a thread of connotations or lived-through historical experience that are only available to the Hungarian. ( )
  albertgoldfain | Jun 16, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Krasznahorkai, Lászlóprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alföldy, MariTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Szirtes, GeorgeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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In that case, I'll miss the thing by waiting for it. – FK
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Op een ochtend tegen eind oktober, vlak voordat de eerste druppels van de onbarmhartig lange herfstregens op de gebarsten grond van het verdorde land ten westen van de kolonie zouden neerdalen (waarna door de stinkende modderzee de landwegen tot het invallen van de vorst onbegaanbaar zouden zijn, zodat ook de stad niet meer te bereiken was), werd Futaki wakker van het gebeier van klokken.
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"Set in an isolated hamlet, Satantango unfolds over the course of a few rain-soaked days. Only a dozen inhabitants remain in the bleak village, rank with the stench of failed schemes, betrayals, failure, infidelity, sudden hopes, and aborted dreams. At the center of Satantango is the eponymous drunken dance."--P. [i].

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Book description
Satantango is the masterpiece of post-war Hungarian literature, now available for the first time in English.

In the darkening embers of a Communist utopia, life in a desolate Hungarian town has come to a virtual standstill. Flies buzz, spiders weave, water drips and animals root desultorily in the barnyard of a collective farm. But when the charismatic Irimias - long-thought dead - returns to the commune, the villagers fall under his spell. The Devil has arrived in their midst.

Irimias will divide and rule: his arrival heralds the beginning of a period of violence and greed for the villagers as he sets about swindling them out of a fortune that might allow them to escape the emptiness and futility of their existence. He soon attains a messianic aura as he plays on the fears of the townsfolk and a series of increasingly brutal events unfold. [Amazon.co.uk ]
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