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Skylark (New York Review Books Classics) [Paperback]

Dezso Kosztolanyi , Peter Esterhazy , Richard Aczel
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: £8.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over £10. Details
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Book Description

29 April 2010 New York Review Books Classics
It is 1900, give or take a few years. The Vajkays-call them Mother and Father-live in Sárszeg, a dead-end burg in the provincial heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Father retired some years ago to devote his days to genealogical research and quaint questions of heraldry. Mother keeps house. Both are utterly enthralled with their daughter, Skylark. Unintelligent, unimaginative, unattractive, and unmarried, Skylark cooks and sews for her parents and anchors the unremitting tedium of their lives.

Now Skylark is going away, for only a week it's true, but a week that yawns endlessly for her parents. What will they do? Before they know it, they are eating at restaurants, reconnecting with old friends, attending the theater. And this just a prelude to Father's night out at the Panther Club, about which the less said the better. Drunk, in the light of dawn, Father surprises himself and Mother with his true, buried, unspeakable feelings

about Skylark.

Then, Skylark is back. Is there a world elsewhere, beyond life's daily monotonous grind and creeping disappointment? Not only for Mother and Father, but for Skylark, too? This question is unanswerable, but the crystalline prose, perfect comic timing, and profound human sympathy that make Dezso Kosztolányi one of the masters of European literature conjure up a tantalizing beauty that lies on the far side of the irredeemably ordinary. To that extent, Skylark is nothing less than a magical book.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (29 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590173392
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173398
  • Product Dimensions: 20.5 x 12.8 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 351,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


Kosztolanyi tells his story with its theme of ambivilance with a jaunty, lightness of touch that succeeds in conveying the sadness of small lives and the huge sorrows that determine them. (Irish Times)

About the Author

Dezso Kosztolányi (1885-1936) made his name as a poet. His first novel, Nero, The Bloody Poet, won him the admiration of Thomas Mann.

Péter Esterházy is one of the most widely known contemporary Hungarian writers. His award-winning works have been published in more than twenty languages.

Richard Aczel is the author of National Character and European Identity in Hungarian Literature, 1772-1848.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking 31 Aug 2010
The plot of this novel is simple: Skylark, unmarried and not employed other than in the domestic arrangements of her family home, is persuaded to spend a week with relatives, leaving her ageing parents to fend for themselves. Freed from the stranglehold of her management and prejudices, they dine in restaurants, visit the theatre, stay up all night, and in the last hours before meeting Skylark at the train station scramble to return everything to its place and destroy all evidence of the high life they have led. It's a nice reversal of the more familiar situation of the young running to wild excess whilst parents are away.

Events are firmly anchored in time and place: the week from Friday 1st to Friday 8th September 1899 in the Hungarian town of Sárszeg, a fictionalised form of Subotica, the author's place of birth. By the time Skylark was written (first published 1924), the "war to end all wars" had swept away the easy-going, optimistic way of life described. Gone too was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Hungary had been deprived of two-thirds of its territory. Subotica had been attached to Serbia, a part of Yugoslavia. Skylark is a warts and all but very loving portrait of life in Hungary's second largest town in the last years before the cataclysm.

The closing pages of the book draw us into reflecting that although the triangular family relationship has been restored, it cannot be indefinitely sustained. Neither was Mother and Father's binge sustainable. Nor was it desirable that the life of the town as described should be sustained for ever, even if that were possible. Yet the new order that replaced it could hardly be said to have been better, and the conflagration of transition from the old to the new (of which we pick up just a hint in the narrative) was immeasurably worse. A relatively easy read of less than 60,000 words, this is a thought provoking novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little gem. 2 Nov 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is an intensely moving, beautifully observed short story, It is let down by the translation, which is really not up to the quality of the material it is attempting to present.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A touching and unusual read. 21 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A beautifully written, small and unusual book. Interesting to read about Hungary at the turn of the last century. V. Good.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kosztolanyi's best novel 9 April 2004
By A Customer - Published on
This is an unusually fine short novel which conveys the spirit of life in small town Hungary at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries. If you are unsure where to start with Kosztolanyi, I would read Skylark first and then move on to Anna Edes or his short fiction.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A Perfect Novel" 2 May 2010
By Bartolo - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found out about this little gem through Deborah Eisenberg's review in The New York Review of Books and would send anyone interested to that website for her own eloquent praise. "A perfect novel," she called it, and not only writes extensively and effusively about it but submits to an online interview in its cause.

There is originality in the conception and plot of the novel, wonderful descriptive passages, and, even rarer, an unremitting honesty in the author's treatment of his characters. We are not allowed to look down from a distant perch at these small-town, constrained people with their modest and circumscribed lives, nor, as they become close and vivid to us, are they elevated to heroic or even special status. Kosztolanyi avoids the formulae of tragedy, pathos, and (despite the chapter headings and humor) farce, nor is he content to serve up social science, fraught with self-justifying psychological and sociological descriptions. We are presented with an account that invokes all those genres, but finally is a synthesis, is nuanced and fully, compassionately human.

I would leave it to Ms Eisenberg to provide more detail than that, but having great esteem for her own short stories, I myself didn't require it. Every line of this slender volume counts, and to describe it overmuch seems almost beside the point.
23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Stunning 23 Jun 1998
By MJ - Published on
I generally agree with what the previous reviewer has stated, although I found this short novel (as well as Anna Edes) brilliant and almost totally flawless. A book which I didn't want to finish simply because I truly enjoyed the experience of reading it.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simple, bittersweet, and thought-provoking. 14 Jun 1998
By A Customer - Published on
There is nothing earth-shattering about this novel except the unusual clarity of Kosztolányi's descriptive powers. More so than the novel Anna Édes, however, Skylark puts a burden of thought onto the reader. Kosztolányi only narrates, offering no judgements or opinions, and so his narration is very focused. The translation preserves this and is generally praiseworthy; Kosztolányi's characteristic terse, direct style and colorful phrasing come through unscathed.
This edition has a nice 10 page introduction by Péter Esterházy, which gives interesting information about the author as well as some background information about Hungarian literature. The cover and binding are, in my opinion, quite handsome also.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The bourgeoisie of provincial Kakania 26 Oct 2011
By R. M. Peterson - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This deceptively unsettling novel tells the story of the Vajkay family over one week in September 1899. The Vajkays live, in almost cloistered fashion, in Sárszeg, a backwater town in the grandiose Austro-Hungarian Empire of Franz Joseph and the Habsburgs. Father Ákos is fifty-nine, a retired archivist; mother Antónia is fifty-seven; and daughter Skylark (one of the most incongruously named characters in fiction) is thirty-five. She dotes on her parents, and in truth they are all she has, because she is -- there is no other word for it -- ugly.

The family's inveterate routine is interrupted when Skylark goes to stay with relatives on the plains for a week. Because Skylark had done all the cooking, Father and Mother have to eat out, at the King of Hungary restaurant. There they meet old acquaintances and they are drawn out of their shells into the provincial social life of Sárszeg, including a night at the theater and, for Father, eating and drinking with the Panthers, the local club of bon vivants. Father and Mother are rejuvenated, at least temporarily. But then it is time for Skylark to return. Was she, too, re-invigorated over that week? Does she have any new prospects for marriage? Or do things return to the way they were?

From that outline SKYLARK might sound like pretty mundane fare. But Dezso Kosztolányi, one of the leading Hungarian writers of his time, makes of it a very engaging light novel, alternately funny and poignant. The writing is brisk, deft, and assured.

On one level SKYLARK is a superb portrayal of the bourgeoisie of provincial Kakania, a keen yet gentle satire of their smug but gormless existence. For example, the only two subjects Ákos Vajkay enjoys reading about are the genealogies of Hungarian nobility and the history of coats of arms; every evening before going to bed he checks behind the furniture and in the wardrobes to see if anyone is hiding there; the show-stopping number during their theater night of culture, a performance of "The Geisha", is a vaudeville song ending "Chin Chin Chinaman, Chop, Chop, Chop!"

At the same time, it depicts the proper and correct - but oh so achingly empty - life of the Vajkays. "Skylark", indeed. The ending is ineffably sad. And death hovers over everyone.

Although written in 1924, SKYLARK is not at all dated. And although set in provincial Kakania, it has a universal import.
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