A witty reworking of one of the most interesting questions of existentialism, what is the Self?, Antal Szerbs Oliver VII is a playful work of comic philosophy.
The restless King Oliver VII of Alturia, an obscure Central European state whose only notable exports are wine and sardines, wants nothing more than an easy life: so, plotting a coup against himself, King Oliver VII escapes to Venice in search of real experience. There he falls in with a team of con-men and ends up, to his own surprise, impersonating himself. His journey through successive levels of illusion and reality teaches him much about the world, about his own nature and the paradoxes of the human condition. Szerb offered Oliver VII 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 by the Nazi regime?
Translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix, Antal Szerbs Oliver VII is published by Pushkin Press
Szerb belongs with the master novelists of the 20th century
— Paul Bailey Daily Telegraph
May Szerbs entry into our literary pantheon be definitive
— Alberto Manguel, Financial Times
[T]here is more to it than fable. It actually has much in common with Journey by Moonlight the flight from identity, the alleys of Venice, the choices that must be made between duty and pleasure, or between two women. And it has its comedy, too
— Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
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, author of The Accidental
Antal Szerb (1901–1945) was born 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 novels, available in Pushkin Press, include The Pendragon Legend (1934), set in London and Wales, Journey by Moonlight (1937), The Queen#146;s Necklace (1943), and Oliver VII (1943). He was beaten to death in the forced-labour camp at Balf in January 1945.