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A Book Of Memories [Paperback]

Peter Nádas
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
RRP: £11.99
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Book Description

4 Jun 1998

A Book of Memories is made up of three first-person narratives:

The first, that of a young Hungarian writer and his fated love for a German poet; we also learn of the narrator's adolescence in Budapest, when he experiences the downfall of his once upper-class but now pro-Communist family.

A second memoir, alternating with the first, is a novel the narrator is composing about a refined Belle Epoque aesthete, whose anti-bourgeois transgressions seem like emotionally overcharged versions of the narrator's own experiences.

A third voice is that of a childhood friend who, after the narrator's return to his homeland, offers an apparently more objective account of their friendship.

Together these brilliantly coloured lives are integrated into a powerful work of tragic intensity.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (4 Jun 1998)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0099766310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099766315
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 13 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 222,771 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

A Book of Memories is a novel within a novel. The outer shell of Hungarian author Peter Nadas's ambitious tale concerns a nameless Hungarian writer and his ménage à trois with an ageing actress and a younger man in East Germany. While the contemporary writer's own story unfolds, he is busily at work on an historical novel about a German novelist named Thomas Thoenissen. As if a novel about a novelist writing about a novelist wasn't confusing enough, the two fictional writers have a great deal in common, including an unnatural affection for their mothers and a predilection for bisexual triangles. Throw into this already heady brew a great deal cold-war politics, and it becomes obvious that A Book of Memories requires a serious commitment from the reader.

Moving in time between the old Stalinist era and post-communist Eastern Europe, Peter Nadas convincingly conveys the effects of communism, both as it happened and as it collapsed. In his unnamed narrator he creates a perfect conduit between two times; the narrator grew up in a privileged communist family, the son of the state prosecutor in a Stalinist regime. In chronicling the boy's passage from child to man, Nadas paints a vivid portrait of the secrecy, fear and tension in a society in which the personal and the political are often one and the same.


"Original and exhilarating work that demands to be read again" (Sunday Times)

"The greatest novel written in our time, one of the great books of the century" (Susan Sontag)

"One of the most important novels of our time" (Times Literary Supplement)

"The monumental event of recent Hungarian history, the fated uprising of 1956, is accounted for in the most affecting manner imaginable in these haunted pages" (Daily Telegraph)

"What makes this Book of Memories so memorable is the sheer quality of the prose, its subtlety and intelligence, which shines through what seems an elegant and unobtrusively American translation" (The Times)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
A friend of mine gave me this book just before I moved to Hungary (where much of the book is set) to live for a year, and to a large degree my experience of that country is tied up with my feelings about this monumental novel. It took me a long time to read but when I finished I was left with a far-off, remote feeling of quiet sadness and contemplation that only a few of my very favourite books have given me. It is true, the book does require considerable commitment from its readers - it is narrated in an extraordinarily long-winded, Proustian stream-of-consciousness fashion, and the shifts between narrators (there are three), settings and epochs are not always easy to navigate. But the incredible sustained depth of this work, the beauty of its passages, and the genuine pathos that it achieves make it well worth the effort. In "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" Milan Kundera arranges the chronology such that the last section of the book takes place before the middle section, and thus we read about the strivings of the characters with the tragic foreknowledge of their deaths. In Nadas Peter's book this device is carried to a new extreme: The penultimate section of the book is narrated by a childhood friend of the author of the rest of the book, who informs us of the death of this author. The final section is written by the now-dead author and "appended" by his friend as the "keystone" to the whole work. Thus we read the final section with the knowledge that the narrator of this section (written in the first-person) is now dead, and the effect is harrowing. The irony of the book's closing words, coming as they do after a work of colossal length and complexity, brings me to tears every time I read them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 30 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Excellent. Thank-you.
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1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 9 Nov 2012
Found it utterly boring, long dissertations about personal feelings make it hard to hold the reader's attention. Far away from the 20th century crisp matter of fact style of uk and us fiction is instead convoluted and complex. À lot lieu commun instead of any particular deep insights. The staccato 3 voice structure doesn't help as it continuously breaks attention and focus. Have given up after page 200 (end of part 1)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exposing the Soul During a Historical Turning Point 29 Jan 2005
By Erika Borsos - Published on
I was drawn to the cover ... a photo of the Hungarian Parliament building sitting on the edge of the Danube ... surrounded by a fog. Had I listened to the old adage "Don't judge a book by its cover" ... most likely I would *not* have read the book. This is a highly complex and controversial book but *not* as one would expect, because of its political contents, the most probable reason that it was a five year battle with the censors in Hungary before it was permitted to be published. No ... the world has long acknowledged there was repression experienced in Central and Eastern Europe during the post World War II Communist occupation of this region. In fact, many books have been published examining the causes and outcomes of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. This book is risque because of the highly personal experiences revealed by the sensitive and intelligent main character whose memoirs we are reading. The daring revelations could push people's "buttons", those who make moral judgements about what two consenting adults do during intimate moments, those of the same gender or opposite. Frankly, had I known this was in the book, I would not have bought it. As it stands, the events unfolded gradually and amazingly, I was not shocked, after all, it was the main character's memoirs. The emotional complexity of the novel intertwines on many levels, with many different recollections of life experiences at different ages. The descriptions are highly personal and direct, it is as if we, the reader have a connection to how the character's mind works. The writing is elegant, the emotions are deep, the thoughts are intense ... It is a serious novel written with great attention to detail and texture. The descriptions of people's actions, the interpretation of their feelings and responses shows the author, Peter Nadas to be a man of refined sensitivity and superior intelligence. His description of the personal impact of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 on the lives of everyday people is extremely accurate and most highly impressive. I can say this because my family lived through it. The event divided us by many hundreds of thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean ... from our relatives ... although it also created closer emotional ties to our homeland, Hungary.

The book begins when the main character is living in East Berlin, he recalls the topsy turvy life he leads, describing the eccentric people who are his friends ... and his experiences during those turbulent times. The writing is complex because interwoven within the novel are connections to past events when the main character was growing up. We learn of his childhood and friends, who later play major roles in his emotional expiation of life experiences. Overall, this book is recommended for its profound and beautiful writing ... with reservations for those who are puritanical in their tastes about reading very personal intimate revelations. Erika Borsos (erikab93)
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but difficult 30 Oct 1999
By Douglas Turnbull - Published on
I was drawn into reading this book by the comparisons with Proust, which I don't think are really justified. It is a very good book, and has some superficial similarities, but I didn't find the same psychological insight in Nadas that Proust had. Nadas seems to have an exceptionally keen eye for external detail, and has many brilliant descriptions of things, but I don't think he has the same brilliance for interior, psychological details. A simple way to put it would be that where Proust writes about love, Nadas writes about sex.
The book also suffers from overly clever and elliptical story-telling, weaving together two distinct plots (which are confusingly both told in the first person, by very similar narrators), without clear indications of when it switches from one to the other. Nadas also adopts a faulkneresque non-linear narrative style, jumping around in time, which further confuses the issue. A few more concessions to readability would have benefitted the book enormously, in my opinion.
A last comment is that the book's central, climactic events hinge around the Hungarian revolution in 1950, but it assumes the reader already knows all the events of that period. If you don't know the timeline of events and the internal politics of Hungary during this turmoil, you would do well to brush up on it before reading Nadas's work.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Twentieth Century Masterpiece, and Absolutely Worth the Effort 2 July 2008
By Dale W. Boyer - Published on
I decided to review this work in an attempt to counter some of the other tepid responses which, frankly, almost disssuaded me from starting the novel at all. But memories of a rave from Susan Sontag in The New Yorker a number of years ago caused me to persist, and I'm glad I did. This is a major novel -- a long, languid, occasionally frustrating one, granted, but one that nevertheless rewards a persistent reader. It helps to know that there are THREE "I" narrators; it also helps to know a little about Hungary's history, and to have some familiarity with the history of the cold war. While comparisons to Proust and Musil are probably inevitable, they are also a bit misleading, particularly in relation to Musil. What Nadas shares with Proust is his belief in the powers of perception and consciousness, as well as his long, delicate, slowly-unfolding lines. Essentially, this is a novel about the difficulties of finding love, set against the backdrop of 20th-century Hungary's inhospitable history. In particular, it is an audacious and sensitive exploration of sexuality and love, and a truly great novel. It is a must for lovers of great literature, and for those looking for a really masterful dissection of a gay sensibility. I am certain I will never forget it, and feel the way I always do in the presence of true art: enormously grateful to the author for having created it.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quote from Prof. Stanislaw Baranczak of Harvard University 18 July 1997
By A Customer - Published on
In "The New Republic," July 28, 1997, pp. 32-36., Professor Stanislaw Baranczak of Harvard University writes that this..." is very likely the book that you have been awaiting since you read "Remembrance of Things Past," "The Magic Mountain" or "The Man Without Qualities"....
"...If a masterpiece is a book that makes us wonder how we could have claimed to understand our own existence before we read it, then Peter Nadas's book is unquestionably a masterpiece."
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-written and sensually charged . . . 29 July 2001
By "hobbs13" - Published on
I enjoyed this book not only for its complicated plot and rich prose, but also for the way Nadas weaves multiple stories together; I've seen this is most of his other novels where the so-called "plot" becomes entangled with other narrators and other times, sort of like Louise Erdrich on acid. All in all, I love the way he describes sensory material present both in the world and internally, and the way both become ensnared. If you don't like a good, rich, complicated novel, stick to John Grisham.
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