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Katalin Street (1969)

by Magda Szabó

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2141092,830 (4.26)31
WINNER OF THE 2018 PEN TRANSLATION PRIZE From the author of The Door, selected as one of the New York Times "10 Best Books of 2015," this is a heartwrenching tale about a group of friends and lovers torn apart by the German occupation of Budapest during World War II. In prewar Budapest three families live side by side on gracious Katalin Street, their lives closely intertwined. A game is played by the four children in which B#65533;lint, the promising son of the Major, invariably chooses Ir#65533;n Elekes, the headmaster's dutiful elder daughter, over her younger sister, the scatterbrained Blanka, and little Henriette Held, the daughter of the Jewish dentist. Their lives are torn apart in 1944 by the German occupation, which only the Elekes family survives intact. The postwar regime relocates them to a cramped Soviet-style apartment and they struggle to come to terms with social and political change, personal loss, and unstated feelings of guilt over the deportation of the Held parents and the death of little Henriette, who had been left in their protection. But the girl survives in a miasmal afterlife, and reappears at key moments as a mute witness to the inescapable power of past events. As in The Door and Iza's Ballad, Magda Szab#65533; conducts a clear-eyed investigation into the ways in which we inflict suffering on those we love. Katalin Street, which won the 2007 Prix C#65533;vennes for Best European novel, is a poignant, somber, at times harrowing book, but beautifully conceived and truly unforgettable.… (more)
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» See also 31 mentions

English (7)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (10)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Three families live side-by-side in a prosperous middle-class idyll between the Castle and the river in Pest in the mid-1930s. It's always summer, the four children are constantly in and out of each other's gardens, and the three girls are all, in their different ways, in love with Bálint. Then comes the war, and everything changes...

Szabó plays around with time, space and narrative voice to commit us to her characters before we have quite worked out what it is that has happened between them, and she leaves a lot of key words unsaid (but all the more powerfully present precisely because we know they ought to be there): maybe that was a strategy that was originally imposed on her by the need to beat the censor. But it also means that the different external forces that operate in the book — Nazis, the Red Army, Stalinists, the rebels of 1956 — are oddly undifferentiated from each other, and we are brought in to a close-up view of what is happening in the relations between people rather than being allowed to think about the big outside events that may be causing them. Parents and children, siblings, good and bad reasons for lovers to come together, jealousy, obsession, distraction: it's all there, and all quite frightening in its simplicity. ( )
  thorold | Dec 5, 2019 |
Katalin Street🍒🍒🍒🍒
By Magda Szabo
1969 Hungary / 2018 USA
New York Book Review

The memories and tough dilemmas on Katalin Street, overlooking the Danube river, resonate throughout the lives of three families. They are powerful, moving and insightful.
The 3 families are prosperous and friendly as the story begins in 1934. One house is the Major and his son, Balint. In another live the Elekes family who have two daughters, Iren and Blanka. The last house belongs to the Helds, a Jewish dentist and his wife, and their daughter Henriette.
The families are torn apart in 1944 by the German occupation, and they are relocated to tiny apts in another area. My favorite was the Held family, who are deported and the death of their daughter, Henriette. She reappears throughout the book in a ghost like memory to all the families, and is a constant reminder of the past events that bind these 3 families.
Magda Szabo is one of my favorite authors. Her ability to entwine the lives, and humanity of people, through their accomplishments and suffering are so real and well written. Her views of humanity and her use of atmosphere and environment are seamless, you can easily relate to them and feel their emotions.
A very high recommendation for this. Fantastic! ( )
  over.the.edge | Aug 13, 2018 |
"...no one had told them that the most frightening thing of all about the loss of youth is not what is taken away but what is granted in exchange. Not wisdom. Not security. Not sound judgment or tranquility. Only the awareness of universal disintegration."

"...they had learned that is everyone's life there is only one person whose name can be cried out in the moment of death."
Katalin Street has a enchanting start (though it is sort of confusing). With each subsequent chapter, the novel becomes slightly less mesmerizing and affecting (and less confusing). In the end, I cannot say that I really enjoyed or even fully appreciated this novel. It certainly has some powerful prose and a wonderfully conceived story, but it does grow a bit tiresome. A very solid effort from Magda Szabó, but I do wish it had been polished more. ( )
  chrisblocker | Jun 20, 2018 |
I read Katalin Street because of Heaven-Ali's review (below), because it was set in Budapest, which I visited a few years ago, and because I like contemporary Eastern European literature. I wasn't disappointed -- I found it a beautiful read, but probably not for everyone. It's the tale of three families, particularly their children, who grow up in neighboring houses on Katalin Street in pre-WWII Budapest. Their childhoods are pretty idyllic, and none of them can escape the memories and lure of Katalin Street after the war. The narration is multi-vocal, and one of the narrators is dead, so there is a definite aspect of magical realism to the story.

In gorgeous prose, Szabo explores the effects of war on ordinary individuals and their relationships, the difficulties of communicating even with those who love each other, and how ties to the past make living in the present more difficult.

The process of growing old bears little resemblance to the way it is presented either in novels or in works of medical science.

No work of literature, and no doctor, had prepared the former residents of Katalin Stree for the fierce light that old age would bring to bear on the shadowy, barely sensed corridor down which they had walked in the earlier decades of their lives, or the way it would rearrange their memories and their fears, overturning their earlier moral judgements and system of values....no one had told them that the most frightening thing of all about the loss of youth is not what is taken away but what is granted in exchange. Not wisdom. Not serenity. Not sound judgement or tranquility. Only the awareness of universal disintegration.
( )
  janeajones | Feb 6, 2018 |
Translated from Hungarian by Len Rix (2017)

A few months ago. I said I intended to read more books in translation, I’m aiming for one book a month, that didn’t seem too ambitious. This is a book I bought a few months ago, a literary novel by an author I have read twice before, I didn’t feel it would take me too far outside my comfort zone. Having already greatly enjoyed The Door and Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabó I was really looking forward to Katalin Street, recently reissued by the gorgeous nryb classics. In many ways this novel is every bit as good as both those – though it is a more nuanced, complex novel.

Moving back and forth across more than three decades, it tells the powerful story of Hungarian middle-class families before and after The Second World War. The writing is brilliant, recalling in unsentimental prose, events viewed from a position of nostalgia by those unable to free themselves of their past. The opening section of the book is rather slow, but worth sticking with – the middle section of the book quite extraordinary, beautifully written.

“In everyone’s life there is only one person whose name can be cried out in the moment of death.”

The novel opens to the world of a concrete apartment block, from where the residents are able to look out across the Danube to a place where they lived in former, better days.

“The apartment was on the sixth floor of a relatively new block on the left bank of the Danube, with views across the river. From its windows they could see their old house. Its façade had been covered in scaffolding for several months now, undergoing redevelopment along with its immediate neighbours. It looked like a childhood friend who, either in anger or a spirit of fun, had put on a mask and forgotten to take it off long after the party had ended.”

A Soviet style block, in a world of social and political change. Here Szabó conveys with chilling perfection the stark, depressing, hopelessness of a place with which you feel no connection. This is a novel about hauntings, the past, people and places – the memories which we are unable to shake.

Katalin Street in Budapest; a street of gracious family homes before the Second World War. Here three families lived side by side, the Elekes, Helds and Birós whose lives are naturally intertwined. The children of these families grow up together, playing games, running in and out of each other’s homes. Sisters; Irén and Blanka, vie for the attentions of Bálint the son of the Major. Henrietta Held the little daughter of the Jewish dentist is adored and petted by them all.

The war brings terrible change to these families, torn apart by the German occupation, the Elekes are the only family to survive intact. The Elekes family struggle with the new reality, and with their feelings of guilt over the deportation of the Held parents during the war, and the terrible senseless death of Henriette who they had been supposed to be caring for.

“Mrs. Held came toward them, then suddenly stopped, leaned over to inhale the scent of a crimson rose, and declared, “We shall live here till the day we die.” That was the one sentence spoken on that day that had stayed in Henriette’s memory. She had no idea what it meant. She had no idea what life was, or death.”

Henriette watches them from her place in the afterlife – that she shares with her parents, the man who killed her and others from her too brief life. Bearing witness to the changes that have taken place and the impact her death has had on those left behind.

After the war, as young adults; Blanka lives in exile, while Irén and Bálint are promised to one another, he’s a doctor now. Homeless under the new regime – he comes to live in the tiny apartment with the Elekes and he and Irén enter into a lengthy and ultimately unsatisfying engagement. Bálint is changed by the past, haunted by Henriette – his life spirals out of control and he is transported by the regime to the countryside for several years. Irén and Bálint are stuck in the past, unable to move forward with their lives, they are rooted in the past more than the older generation appear to be.

“But no one had told them that the most frightening thing of all about the loss of youth is not what is taken away but what is granted in exchange. Not wisdom. Not serenity. Not sound judgement or tranquillity. Only the awareness of universal disintegration.”

Bit by bit, the truth of exactly what happened and why is revealed as the further forward in time the narrative moves, the more the characters appear to look back.

Katalin Street is a more challenging work by Szabó than either The Door or Iza’s Ballad. The opening section is a little confusing, several characters introduced across a couple of pages with no explanation of the connections they each have to one another. Two, first person narrators and a third person narrative with shifting viewpoints make for a complex structure. Still, for those who like me loved those other two novels available in English translations, Katalin Street must be essential reading. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Jan 29, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Magda Szabóprimary authorall editionscalculated
Haldimann, EvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kovacs, ElisabethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rix, LenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, Agnes FarkasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thies, VeraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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WINNER OF THE 2018 PEN TRANSLATION PRIZE From the author of The Door, selected as one of the New York Times "10 Best Books of 2015," this is a heartwrenching tale about a group of friends and lovers torn apart by the German occupation of Budapest during World War II. In prewar Budapest three families live side by side on gracious Katalin Street, their lives closely intertwined. A game is played by the four children in which B#65533;lint, the promising son of the Major, invariably chooses Ir#65533;n Elekes, the headmaster's dutiful elder daughter, over her younger sister, the scatterbrained Blanka, and little Henriette Held, the daughter of the Jewish dentist. Their lives are torn apart in 1944 by the German occupation, which only the Elekes family survives intact. The postwar regime relocates them to a cramped Soviet-style apartment and they struggle to come to terms with social and political change, personal loss, and unstated feelings of guilt over the deportation of the Held parents and the death of little Henriette, who had been left in their protection. But the girl survives in a miasmal afterlife, and reappears at key moments as a mute witness to the inescapable power of past events. As in The Door and Iza's Ballad, Magda Szab#65533; conducts a clear-eyed investigation into the ways in which we inflict suffering on those we love. Katalin Street, which won the 2007 Prix C#65533;vennes for Best European novel, is a poignant, somber, at times harrowing book, but beautifully conceived and truly unforgettable.

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