17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A dance with very little movement
Krasznahorkai's 1985 debut novel, which seems to have recently risen to the surface again, can stand comparison with some of the best of European literature.
Set for the most part on the last desolate remnants of a failed collective farm, after a locust-plagued summer, it's a hellish vision of impoverished lives that have lost their centre, drifted to a...
Published 15 months ago by annwiddecombe
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hard work
I found it very hard to read this book. I could not connect with the characters or the place and I found it very depressing. There are no paragraph breaks which makes it very difficult to read and I must admit it was hard work to follow what was going on. I eventually gave up after around 100 pages. I bought it after it was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction...
Published 5 months ago by MrsC
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A dance with very little movement,
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This review is from: Sátántango (Hardcover)Krasznahorkai's 1985 debut novel, which seems to have recently risen to the surface again, can stand comparison with some of the best of European literature.
Set for the most part on the last desolate remnants of a failed collective farm, after a locust-plagued summer, it's a hellish vision of impoverished lives that have lost their centre, drifted to a standstill and are now shrouded in little but mud and hopelessness and fuelled by little other than palinka liquor and cigarettes.
The novel focuses on ten or so characters still living - or rather, existing - on the farm, and two men, Irimiás and Petrina, who have previously left and are thought by the villagers to be dead. At the book's beginning, `not long before the mercilessly long autumn rains began to fall on the cracked and saline soil', the villagers seem finally to have come into money via a sale of livestock and are planning to use it to escape. Yet their prevaricating and squabbling and mutual distrust means they get nowhere. When introduced, Irimiás, a self-styled messianic figure in pointed yellow shoes, houndstooth coat and red tie ( based on a malevolent pig castrator the author knew), and Petrina, his jug-eared factotum, are seen to be employed by the state police as informants and involved in an unexplained `project'. These two shadowy men (`I know everything about you,' says the police captain, `...but...I am none the wiser for that') then make their way back to the village where their arrival is met with a mixture of fear and celebration. Needless to say, Irimiás's long-winded promises of rejuvenation, peace and plenty are not quite what they seem.
Written entirely without paragraph breaks and in sentences that are often a page long, `Satantango' might seem like a forbidding read. But the narrative is reasonably easy to follow- this is no `Finnegan's Wake' - and the night-black humour, depth of characterization, the vividness and emotion with which Krasznahorkai brings his wretched, rain-drenched, wind-blasted world to life makes this as compelling a novel as you could wish for. Undoubtedly, it mimics many of Samuel Beckett's themes of failure, paralysis and the vain hope for change, and the villagers - the crippled Futaki (`with his endless, depressing talk of flaking plaster'), the Doctor - an obese, drink-addled obsessive recorder of estate life - the pious Mrs Halics, slatternly, big-breasted Mrs Schmidt who dreams of stockings and hats, the half-witted, cat torturing child Little Esti, and the blind, accordion-playing giant Kerekes, could be characters from `Endgame' or `Waiting for Godot': these are people with nothing to lose but what's left of their souls. As Beckett's works do, `Satantango' often feels ageless, and we are surprised by the appearance of cars and telephones.
The prose is perhaps verbose in places, but more often works with visionary, cosmic power to express a profound truth or feeling: `The entire end-of-October night was beating with a single pulse, its own strange rhythm sounding through trees and rain and mud in a manner beyond words or vision: a vision present in the low light, in the slow passage of darkness, in the blurred shadows, in the working of tired muscles; in the silence, in its human subjects, in the undulating surface of the metaled road; in the hair moving to a different beat than do the dissolving fibres of the body; growth and decay on their divergent paths; all these thousands of echoing rhythms, this confusing clatter of night noises, all parts of an apparently common stream, that is the attempt to forget despair...' It's like the flip, ordure-splattered side of F Scott Fitzgerald.
With the big-name English literary novelists still seemingly stuck in a corduroyed rut of well-bred people fiddling about in big houses over problems that aren't worth a fart (reading the blurb for new books by Zadie Smith, H. Jacobson and the increasingly smug Ian McEwan made me want to take heroin - `supper at Julian's is one of the great pleasures' said McEwan recently in an interview) and American writers becoming as conservative and pragmatic as their politicians, `Satantango' - made into an eight hour film by the only man who could do it justice, Bela Tarr - reads like a work tuned into the concerns of the many billions of people who aren't architects or novelists or academics or spies or hitmen and, as the recession hits its fifth year, our politicians remain helpless, the Eurozone teeters and the weather turns feral, a work that is increasingly relevant to our times.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Self-delusion played as a team sport.,
This review is from: Sátántango (Hardcover)The residents of the "estate" are trying to brew some type of life out of the dregs of their small town. However, life seemingly left that area some time ago. There are those who will hang on forever in a hope that someone will somehow make things like they used to be. This is probably the case in other countries in real life as it is in the fictional one of the Hungary we read about in Satantango.
The same people tell the same stories over and over, even though others could tell the same stories and maybe do it better. Others go through the same routine motions each day/week. You can set your clock/calendar by their actions. Though they want things to change for the better, of course they don't want to be forced to change. To their credit, they lack that particular ability. Their contribution to the world is based on the way things "were" not on the way things "are".
But, salvation is on the way. A savior will come with the solution to their problems, with the cure to their disease, with their futures secured. Unless he is dead. Or was that just a rumor? Or perhaps it was both a rumor and the truth. He is coming, though. Right? Things will be better then. Right?
Unlike "stream of conscience" stories, he seems to write "stream of description" stories. His narrators have to include every possible word, or set of them, that will explain the thoughts and actions of the characters to the reader. It is like the person who breathlessly begins "let me tell you what happened" and minutes later still isn't done but has to stop to gasp in some air before continuing, and continuing, and .... (As in, "Pull up a seat. This may take a while.")
Thus, we enter the minds of the characters and not only hear their spoken words but also read their thoughts. All of them. Such as they are. Their thoughts are not necessarily well reasoned or even slightly reasoned. We quickly hope that our minds are somehow wired differently than theirs. Or, we certainly hope that others never gain the same entry into our minds. Ever.
The entire book is a study of people - people caught up by and in a changing world. The author has created a limited universe of people, places and events to tell the story of the residents. They are generally unlikeable, but they will often surprise you and their antics are frequently worth a chuckle, or even a laugh. This is a delightful story of squalor and despair - and that is not a contradiction.
Krasznahorkai's Melancholy of Resistance is a nonstop story of a city and a country caught in the pincers of history, but told through the same type microscopic study of a few of the people. Satantango, likewise, is about the people. This time the changing city becomes the changed village. The players in the running of a city become the hangers-on of the past that might never survive the present, much less make it to the future.
Reading the section available using the "Look Inside" feature (above) will provide the potential reader with a sample of Krasznahorkai's style of writing. Yes, the entire book is written "that way". If you find the form to be as fascinating as I did, then you have discovered an author to be enjoyed.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece of European Literature,
This review is from: Satantango (Hardcover)Béla Tarr's 1994 screen translation of Sátántangó  [DVD] opens with a long-shot of cattle standing indifferently in the rain, up to their hocks in mud, and then - after an almost endless pause - closes in on the human beings who exist under the same sky, soaked by the same rain, immobilised by the same mud. I'm a big fan of Béla Tarr (who also filmed one of Krasznahorkai's later novels The Melancholy of Resistance) as Werckmeister Harmonies [DVD], and was interested to see how the novel Satantango would relate to the film, but not being a Hungarian speaker, I've had to wait until now to find out. Apparently George Szirtes deliberately avoided the film while doing the translation to avoid cross-contamination. But I found that film and book carried on having a dialogue in my head as I read, and one illuminated the other in a very positive way.
In the opening sequences of both film and novel Futaki, woken by bells, listens to the rain from the warmth of Mrs Schmidt's bed, and watches the dawn through the `mousehole' of a window that provides a view of the derelict estate that is a product of the collapsing political system. And he sees himself `nailed to the cross of his own cradle and coffin'.
The story is set on a derelict `estate' where all but a few of the workers have already moved on to other lives. The remaining characters - the Halics, the Kráners, the Schmidts, the crippled Futaki, the alcoholic Doctor, Kerekes the drunken farmer, the widowed Mrs Horgos and her four children, are all in a state of perpetual indecision. They are waiting for something to change, for some sign that will tell them where to go or what to do.
When someone reports that they have seen Irimiás and Petrina (rumoured to be dead) walking towards the estate in the rain, all their hopes are raised. For Mrs Halics Irimiás is Satan himself, for others he is a petty crook, devious political operator, or even a Messiah. Irimiás inspires fear and devotion. But all are certain that his coming means that nothing will ever be the same again.
`Like the others, [Futaki] no longer believed that anything could change. He had resigned himself to staying here for the rest of his life because there was nothing he could do about it. Could an old head like his set itself to anything new? That was how he had thought but no longer: that was all over now. Irimiás would be here soon "to shake things up good and proper"....'
Bells are heard ringing like a premonition, a young girl goes missing, the rain is relentless, the names `Irimiás and Petrina' repeat like a litany while the characters dance drunkenly through the night in the bar. The reader has a glimpse, through `the dead skin' that covers everything, of something much more profound about ourselves and the society we live in. The revelations are sometimes comic, sometimes tragic.
While the setting of the book fits perfectly into the dramatic shift at the end of the Soviet era that forced the move from totalitarian dependency to capitalist individualism, nothing is specific and it could just as easily describe any kind of regime change and the inability of ordinary people to deal with it. Towards the end of the book, the characters begin to reflect on their own vulnerability.
`What made it possible for people like them - people who had finally managed to emerge from years of apparently terminal hopelessness to breathe the dizzying air of freedom - to rush around in senseless despair, like prisoners in a cage so that even their vision had clouded over.'
This is a brilliant, hypnotic book. I can't adequately describe the sheer pleasure of reading prose that generates a shiver of delight by its perfect, intricate syntax, and the total originality of its language and imagery.
`Irimiás scrapes the mud off his lead-heavy shoes, clears his throat, cautiously opens the door, and the rain begins again, while to the east, swift as memory, the sky brightens, scarlet and pale blue and leans against the undulating horizon, to be followed by the sun, like a beggar daily panting up to his spot on the temple steps, full of heartbreak and misery, ready to establish the world of shadows, to separate the trees one from the other, to raise, out of the freezing, confusing homogeneity of night in which they seem to have been trapped like flies in a web, a clearly defined earth and sky with distinct animals and men, the darkness still in flight at the edge of things, somewhere on the far side on the western horizon, where its countless terrors vanish one by one like a desperate, confused, defeated army.'
The rhythm of the book follows the rhythm of the dance, Tango, an erotic `tease for two', with its circularity, its leg-hooking and displacement manoeuvres. It's the ultimate dance of the devil, and as we know, Satan has all the best tunes.
Throw away the creative writing text books, prescriptive ideas of plot and character construction, the trickery of narrative hooks. Satantango has no formulaic back-story `reveals', just a space in the narrative for that old-fashioned mechanism, the imagination. Short sentences? The novel has winding syntactical units like tentacles that reel you inexorably into the centre of the story. This is the real thing - the thing itself.
This was László Krasznahorkai's first novel, but it's a masterpiece of European literature beautifully translated. George Szirtes is a poet who knows that translation isn't simply the substitution of one word for another, but using the right word in the right place to convey the layers of meaning in a text, allowing the reader to experience the rhythms and textures of the original as faithfully as possible. Why did we have to wait twenty six years for a translation into the English language? Is this a symptom of the `dumbing down' of publishing generally over the last couple of decades?
This book demands your complete attention - it isn't an easy read, but it rewards perseverance with a breathtaking awareness of what literature can be and do when you throw away the rule-book. It's also unsettling. The stink of desolation will stick in your nostrils for a long time, tempting you to say `at least my life's not like this'. But can you be sure?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The imagination never stops working but we're not one jot nearer the truth,",
This review is from: Sátántango (Hardcover)Satantango, starts in some mouldering Hungarian hamlet, the home of the workers of a collective long since closed and stripped of anything of worth, and like the inhabitants of the hamlet forgotten by the outside world. In fact the only growth market appears to be rot and spiders, very little happens here. Within the first few pages we realise that the rot has spread to all and sundry, there is not a single character of worth, all are, to varying degrees, corrupt, paranoid and full of loathing whether of self or of their neighbours. We also learn that they are waiting for Irimias, who may or may not be Satan, not that this matters as these individuals are so deep into the morass of all that's bad about humanity, that Satan would be worried about contamination. The villagers wait at the inn for Irimias, who has been seen on the road heading their way with his sidekick Petrina, which is strange because Irimias, is supposed to be dead. Irimias has the ability to charm and mesmerise all to his way, even those who are deeply suspicious of him, still follow his bidding even parting with the collective's small pot of money. This leads to a series of events that breaks what little bonds they once held and violence erupts, although this is brief as all are so ensnared by Irimias machination, that they can see little else.
In a post,I read it stated that " I felt this book had a lot of central European mythology that has been brought to the modern age and also what makes myths.." This wonderful insight I think rings true, in fact I would go further and state that the character of Irimias, is a great representation of a character not just of European mythology but of world, Irimias, seems to be a Trickster, who features in a lot of tales from around the world whether as Loki, Syrdon, Veles, Gwydion or as Coyote, Anansi or Crow. The Trickster, is an example of a Jungian archetype, defined as being an "ancient or archaic image that derives from the collective unconscious" (Carl Jung). The Trickster surfaces in modern literature as a character archetype often acting as a catalyst or harbinger of change, they may reveal unhappiness with the status quo through slips of the tongue or spontaneous and unusual actions, which is pretty much a pen portrait of Irimias.
Although this may be alluded to within the book Krasznahorkai, is not one for spelling things out. Irimias may be the devil/ trickster or just some cheap con man. With the action (?) confined pretty much to the hamlet, this book come across as really claustrophobic, everything cycles through like the seasons, but unlike the seasons nothing is resolved there is no growth everything appears thwarted, even stunted. The dance just goes on with no joy or release - just an increasing heaviness, everything simmers and yet the kettle doesn't boil, the pressure cooker doesn't release its pressure. There is no end.
This book has also been described as an indictment of Hungarian Collective farming in the dying days of communism and a reaction to the reality of the capitalist dream on a communist utopia. It has also been described as a book on the nature of storytelling. None of this is spelled out in the book, as stated above, very little happens on the page, like the stage direction "Offstage action", most of what happens here, happens within your head and continues to do so long past the turning of the final page.
This post is a series of reactions to what is basically a very simple story and yet I cannot write a cohesive review of it. The obvious place to start would be that it is divided into 12 chapters, most consisting of a single paragraph, or that the book is split into two with the chapters in the first part going from one to six and in the second part from six to one, also the last chapter is named The circle closes, which is apt. The book is set in the twentieth century, although it's shading would lends itself to some medieval setting, or anything apocalyptic. Referring back to my kettle analogy and taking it to it's conclusion, the kettle boils dry leaving only the husks of what was once human, the threshings of humanity.
All that I've written are bullet points, headlining some points yet neglecting others, I guess like storytelling itself, in that you choose a certain path whilst omitting others, and even whilst on that path you do not see, or choose not to see everything - defining yourself and your tale by what you put forward. Satantango, circles on itself like some mythical serpent and within that circle the characters dance their own isolated geometries like marionettes in some brutal puppet play, whilst the story eats it's own tail.
As previously stated, this is a book that happens more in the mind than on the page, this makes it all the more baffling and all the more interesting, what I didn't state is that I have read three books since Satantango, and it still haunts me - still has me trying to comprehend what this paradoxically simple tale is all about.
4.0 out of 5 stars Bleak but worthy read,
This review is from: Satantango (Paperback)"Satantango" by Laszlo Krasznahorkai is a cleverly written, innovative and rightfully critically acclaimed novel. I found the bleak style of the story however difficult to get used to. I am glad I persevered with the novel.
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hard work,
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This review is from: Satantango (Paperback)I found it very hard to read this book. I could not connect with the characters or the place and I found it very depressing. There are no paragraph breaks which makes it very difficult to read and I must admit it was hard work to follow what was going on. I eventually gave up after around 100 pages. I bought it after it was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize but frankly, I am not sure, why it was selected, having read other longlisted titles which I must admit were much better.
4 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars "..no point in shilly-shallying.",
This review is from: Sátántango (Hardcover)Plonk a panegyric from Sebald on the cover and Bob's your uncle. You wish. Bog standard East European comedy-angst, starring a gallery of Grosz grotesques. If it wasn't for the neon light and the transistor radio, the Coca-Cola and the Warszawa, it might have been written in 1930; only a spattering of 'ass' and suchlike dainties betray a translation of recent origin. Pace The Sunday Times ('majestic'), it reads very poorly. I almost thought its uncertainty of tone, its hobbled crudity, its 'translatedness' were deliberate - I was shocked to see it was by that fine and grossly undervalued poet George Szirtes
What makes this so unsatisfactory a translation - aside from the fact that it reads like one? First, it is uncertain whether to adopt British or American usage; Szirtes was obviously thinking too hard 'in Hungarian' - or simply in too much of a hurry - to make up his mind, but the result is a Grayson Perry mess (that is, Grayson Perry qua fashion icon). Second, the pick 'n mix or scattergun use of idiom, which does away with any sense of period. Szirtes had two choices: make it read as contemporary - if not necessarily as articulate - as possible, or go for the timeless pantomime peasant, as in my title citation, and lose all sense of context. This latter act is harder to pull off in any case, but to do neither is simply alienating - and I don't get the impression Krasznahorkai is trying to be Brecht. He must surely read much better in German for him to have won that prize - heck, everyone I like sounds like Bernhard! - though only a Michael Hofmann would know
Though having just sampled Hofmann's inadequate take on Fred 'Seventh Well' Wander, I'm no longer so sure
0 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring,
This review is from: Sátántango (Hardcover)Even if this book were to be re-titled "Vladimir and Estragon forget to take their Prozac", it wouldn't make it any the less inexorably boring. I suppose it may pick up after chapter four, the point at which I gave up, but I somehow doubt it.
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Sátántango by George Szirtes (Hardcover - 1 May 2012)
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