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Oliver VII [Special Edition] [Paperback]

Antal Szerb , Len Rix (translator)
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
Price: 7.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

28 Sep 2007
The King is bored, weighed down by his vast military cloak and all the other impediments to commonplace adventure. So he organises a coup against himself, and abandons his ancient throne. But what should one whose only experience is that of an absolute ruler do with himself? Why, become a con-man of course! So he decides to impersonate himself, pass himself off as the ex-king Oliver VII. All of this leads to one of the oldest sources of comedy, the total inversion of identity, the piling up of paradoxes according to the fashion of the times. A playful reworking of one of the most interesting questions of existentialism: what is the Self? Szerb offered this book as a translation from a non-existent English writer, A H Redcliff...Typical Szerb humor, or a reflection of the fact that as a 'rootless cosmopolitan' his own work was banned? Under the increasing persecution of the Nazi regime, Szerb was stopped from teaching at Szeged University in 1943.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Pushkin Press; Gift edition edition (28 Sep 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1901285790
  • ISBN-13: 978-1901285796
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 12.1 x 16.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 866,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Antal Szerb was born in 1901 into a cultivated Budapest family. He obtained a doctorate in German and English Literature and was a prolific scholar, writing numerous books on drama, poetry and literary history, including the still-influential "History of World Literature" (1941). His first novel, "The Pendragon Legend", pub­lished in 1934, is set in London and Wales. "Journey by Moonlight" appeared in 1937, followed in 1942 by "Oliver VII" and "The Queen's Necklace". Szerb died in the forced-labour camp at Balf in January 1945.

"A writer of immense subtlety and generosity, with an uncommonly light touch which masks its own artistry. His novels transform farce into poetry, comic melancholy into a kind of self- effacing grace ... Antal Szerb is one of the great European writers" Ali Smith

"Szerb is a master novelist, a comedian whose powers transcend time and language, and a playful, sophisticated intellect" Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

Product Description


"Szerb belongs with the master novelists of the 20th century" PAUL BAILEY Daily Telegraph "May Szerb"s re-entry into our literary pantheon be definitive" ALBERTO MANGUEL --Financial Times

About the Author

ANTAL SZERB was born in 1901 into a cultivated Budapest family of Jewish descent. Graduating in German and English, he rapidly established himself as a prolific scholar, publishing books on drama and poetry, studies of Ibsen and Blake, and histories of English, Hungarian, and world literature. His first novel, The Pendragon Legend, was written in 1934. Journey by Moonlight appeared in 1937, followed in 1943 by The Queen's Necklace and various volumes of novellas. He died in the forced-labour camp at Balf in January 1945.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A scintillating novella by a forgotten master. 4 July 2008
The Pushkin Press deserves congratulations for publishing its series of elegant,reasonably-priced books resurrecting forgotten masters of central European literature. None is more masterly than the Jewish Hungarian Antal Szerb, famous in the 1920s and 30s, murdered in the Second World War by Nazis and totally forgotten until recently.
This short novel - novella, really - is set partly in Venice but mostly in Alturia, a fictitious kingdom in Mitteleuropa, closer in spirit to Ruritania than Hungary. If the whole book does not quite live up to the scintillating wit of its opening, it makes a hugely enjoyable read. Like Joseph Roth, another great Jewish writer from the last days of Austro-Hungary, Szerb betrays a distinct nostalgia for the Habsburg monarchy. The Oliver VII of the title is a monarch who would rather not be king - until, that is, love persuades him otherwise. Unlike Roth's often mordant works, this is an effervescent comedy without a trace of bitterness, its levity recalling a Franz Lehar operetta. Such light-heartedness is remarkable for a work written in the depths of the Second World War, when the Jewish population was facing increasing persecution. (Szerb himself declined to escape to safety abroad.)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sheer whimsical delight 5 Jan 2010
I knew nothing previously about Szerb (a Hungarian who was a brilliant literature professor, but who tragically ended up beaten to death in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945) nor the book and only picked it up on the off-chance during a random bookshop browse - and what a find! It was a great holiday read - and if you're after something light but not vacuous, refreshingly escapist but in a far from irrelevant way - this is it.

Having been unknown to English readers until only 2007 (first published in 1942 in Hungarian) it is a beautifully written and perfectly paced novel, wonderfully capturing the atmosphere of middle europe with its interwar ancien regimes now dimly and distantly lost.

Much of the story is told from the point of view of Sandoval, a painter, about the political situation in his country. The focus of his and our attention is the young, eponymous king of a fictitious central European country (Alturia). He feels constrained by the unreality and sycophancy of his world, as well as the obvious fact his country is facing such a major economic crisis (whose only solution appears to come in the form of a foreign venture capitalist who wants to buy the country! all very contemporary...) - so plots a coup d'etat against himself and disappears to Venice where he ends up with a bunch of conmen. The farce culminates in his impersonating himself in a con followed by his restoration to his throne. It's all absurd - but that's really half the point and all of the fun.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A quirky and engaging novel 7 Nov 2010
By Sarah A. Brown VINE VOICE
I bought this after reading Szerb's Journey By Moonlight, a thought-provoking study of identity, nostalgia and loss. Because I had found JBM a challenging and rather mysterious novel, I imagined (having read the blurb) that Oliver VII would be a complex, perhaps rather Nabokovian, study of the Self. Of course teasing thoughts about identity are inevitably triggered by a novel about a man pretending to be himself. But this is essentially a whimsical and very light novel, a charming and enjoyable confection which is gently witty and satirical. But it is painful to reflect on the disjuncture between this good natured and humane comedy and the circumstances in which Szerb was writing, his imminent death.
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