by Dezső Kosztolányi
Human lies and buried stress do not know historical or cultural particularities, but the scenes where they emerge and surface do. This brief but engaging novel of Dezső Koszotlányi depicts both dimensions with trenchant realism and humor.
The long shunned table society of fellow townsmen and women quickly reengages the Vajkays in its showy habits. The couple enjoys wholesome meals and cigars at the local restaurant every day, does shopping binges, and goes to the theater again to see the local diva and the boxes’ fine-boned audience. Ultimately, Skylark’s father even joins a grand carousel with the ‘panthers’, a group of notorious revelers playing cards and drinking themselves to torpor.
The good life engrosses the couple and makes the imminent return of Skylark (and that of distress) more and more painful. This psychical anguish climaxes in a final face-off with facts and fate, a catharsis without relief. As expected, Skylark’s arrival marks a new retreat from the public eye, but the old façade proves hard to rebuild. Their life goes on in a dismal track from which they fail to break free.
The story is a profound and realistic analysis of suppressed human desires and people’s attempts to shake down backward social stigmas. More than a contemplation of psychical matters, Skylark is an exquisite and sympathetic portrayal of the Hungarian provincial life in the late 1800’s. It depicts the local intelligentsia of elderly clerks, roistering dandys, hamming actors, and daydreamer intellectuals. Behind their affairs, duels, binges and yearning for splendid Budapest, we see the Hungarian provincial patriotism surface in theater plays and in alcohol-fuelled debates. Kosztolányi intimately guides the reader through the scenes and routines of Hungarian provincial town life, picturing cafés and restaurants, ‘market-commuters’, and the genuine Hungarian ‘casino’ with extreme accuracy and elegance.
The book’s narrative is smooth and spare, its tones alternating with melancholy, realism and humor.
Blissfully preserved by the English translation, these qualities made Skylark a world-famous imprint of the Hungarian soul.
(Published in HINT - Hungary. Invest, Network, Trade Magazine's fall issue 2010)