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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
By 
N. Rodgers "Nigel Rodgers" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Oliver VII (Paperback)
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
By 
Mark Meynell "quaesitor" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Oliver VII (Paperback)
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.

It's a great antidote to the more aggressive and cynical writing around these days - a charming but very unexpected cocktail of:
- the world of old European monarchies on whose behalf Tintin might have gone in search for missing jewels or investigated coups d'etat
- the 'long-con' world of Micky Stone's Hustle gang - Count St Germain is a perhaps a prototype for Albert (Robert Vaughn) Stroller!?
- a gentle political satire - nothing like as biting as Orwell or Private Eye but not completely divorced from their work either.

There is some seriousness to it all (though never in a heavy-handed way) - running themes like the nature of reality and how we know who we are, behind the masks we wear and the roles we carry. But its delight is derived from its gentle whimsy. It would make a wonderful play... now there's a thought. Perhaps one a rainy afternoon when I've nothing else to do, I might just have a stab at a script...

A final note about Len Rix's translation - it wonderful evokes Oliver's world and while of course I've no idea what it was like in the original Hungarian, it flowed and felt thoroughly authentic. The joy of a good translation is that it's invisible - you never for a moment consider it is one. And that was certainly the case here.
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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 (Cambridge) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Oliver VII (Paperback)
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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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oliver VII by Antal Szerb, 27 July 2013
By 
Dr. T. I. Kilenyi "2tomtom" (Teddinton UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Oliver VII (Kindle Edition)
A lovely fairytale by Antal Szerb, a genius of the first order. The superb translation by Len Rix further enhances the beauty of this little book. Although it was written some seventy years ago the allegory is as apt and fresh as ever. Highly recommended. And look at the price!!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful gentle satire on politics, 8 July 2013
By 
M. F. Cayley (Hampshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Oliver VII (Paperback)
A delightful light-hearted satire on politics, written shortly before the Hungarian author was killed in a concentration camp. The king of a fictional nearly-bankrupt East European country engineers a revolution which sends him into exile. In Venice he lives incognito and teams up with conmen. He ends up impersonating himself and negotiating his way back to his position as king, to be welcomed by his country, which he saves from financial collapse. This gentle farcical story is superbly translated and you wouldn't know it wasn't originally written in English.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars HUMOUR MOST THOUGHTFUL, 13 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Oliver VII (Paperback)
It is perhaps the sort of plot which is more satisfying in discussion than in rendition.I feel it might make one smile at some indeterminate time in the future, perhaps on a train when it might seem inappropriate to do so, so one has to be thankful for that. Szerb's 'The Journey' is surely a rare masterpiece.
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Oliver VII
Oliver VII by Len Rix (translator) (Paperback - 28 Sep 2007)
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