55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a marvelous, muse-ridden oddysey
Journey by Moonlight is deservedly a classic of 20th century Hungarian literature and a very great novel. It combines realistic depiction of middle class Budapest manners and mores with a profound sense of the darker forces at work in all of us beneath the veneer of civilisation (forces which were to erupt and deprive the author of his life in a Nazi labour camp a few...
Published on 6 Jun. 2002 by clear-eyed reader
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps an acquired taste?
Judging by all the 5 star reviews this book has received, I feel that I must be at fault for not fully appreciating it. Perhaps you need to have more sympathy for the Hungarian bourgeois mentalities it is built around: romanticism, fascination with death/suicide, and the love/hate relationship with the predictability of bourgeois life. I loved the start, the idea of a...
Published on 23 Nov. 2010 by Dr. Philip Woods
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a marvelous, muse-ridden oddysey,
Journey by Moonlight is deservedly a classic of 20th century Hungarian literature and a very great novel. It combines realistic depiction of middle class Budapest manners and mores with a profound sense of the darker forces at work in all of us beneath the veneer of civilisation (forces which were to erupt and deprive the author of his life in a Nazi labour camp a few years after he published this book). Every character is drawn with superb elegance and depth, and the parallel journeys of Mihaly and Erszi are astonishing in their desperate intensity and danger. I lived every second of their pathetic nights of crisis with them and was genuinely relieved by the ironic conclusion.
This book is far more than an accomplished comedy of manners, though it may be read as simply that. Its complex nesting of love-triangles denotes the presence of the muse in, ultimately, nightmarish mode. I believe it is a model and precursor for Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles, mention of which immediately calls attention to this work's superior quality as literature and imagination. Antal Szerb deserves our love and gratitude for depicting civilisation and its discontents with a loving mockery counterbalanced by a clear sense of the darkness and menace implicit in civilisation's overthrow (or latent in its roots). He knew so much and spoke so well, we are fortunate to have inherited this much of his genius.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps an acquired taste?,
Judging by all the 5 star reviews this book has received, I feel that I must be at fault for not fully appreciating it. Perhaps you need to have more sympathy for the Hungarian bourgeois mentalities it is built around: romanticism, fascination with death/suicide, and the love/hate relationship with the predictability of bourgeois life. I loved the start, the idea of a honeymoon in romantic Venice threatened by the groom's yearning for going off the beaten track on his own in a random search for something lost from the friendships of his youth. But after that the novel, although readable and interesting enough (particularly the Italian locations), could not really hold my attention. The hero is too lacking in direction (swayed this way and that by events and people) to be attractive, and the plot has too many bizarre coincidences to convince. Still worth reading as a modern Hungarian classic.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beauty on love, wisdom and men coming to age,
By A Customer
Though Szerb may not be the best known Hungarian author in the Western part of the world, he was a genius of rare literal quality. This book is not a great novel, but it tells so much about the country and its occupants during the last years of a forever vanished era. His prose is really elegant which carries you through the not too complicated story about a young man looking for himself - and love -, for the meaning of life (which, as it turns out doesn't exist), and for the rightness of love and being loved. It's an easy read - but on the surface. If you dig deeper and don't give in his charming prose, you will find yourself in the middle of a journey all of us has to take. Not a pleasant trip, but the eternal sadness is washed away by clever thoughts and his ability to see and to make you see the brighter side of this journey. Quiet sadness wrapped in charm with wit about life on earth. He echoes thoughts we all have considered and dares to say it aloud. It's not original: you will find no new information about life and its associates, but he at least tells you something. You are not alone. Not a beach book, but a great friend for brown and lightless nights.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mihaly as a character shouldn't inspire our sympathy, and yet you'll laugh at him, with him,
"ON THE TRAIN everything seemed fine. The trouble began in Venice, with the back alleys." This is our introduction to Mihaly a Hungarian businessman on his honeymoon in Venice. Mihaly has married his wife Erzi to escape from an adolescent rebellious nature and into the arms of conformity, part of the problem faced is his newly wed bride has married him as an attempt to escape the bourgeois conformity of her life prior to meeting him. As stated in the opening lines, the trouble began with those alleys, as one night Mihaly feeling out of sorts, meanders away from the hotel they are staying at and into those alleys and is still wandering at daybreak. This is like a trial run for what happens later. As not long into the honeymoon Mihaly goes AWOL (accidently enters the wrong train), this is followed by a series of misadventures across Italy as his past catches up with him.
We then follow the journey both of these individuals make, with Erzi heading off to Paris to visit an old friend and a series of characters, one of which is the man she left to marry Mihaly, at one point she seems to be offered as part of a business transaction involving a wealthy Persian. Whilst Mihaly wallows in a combination of self-pity, nostalgia and a sense of confusion that has him bouncing from point to point, bumping into people from his past.
Mihaly as a character shouldn't inspire our sympathy, apart from his treatment of his bride, he is self-absorbed to the extent that he appears to believe no one else has an inner live, he's vain, withdrawn, has a combination of amorality & yet appears to be guilt ridden, in fact it's quite hard to find many redeeming features at all and yet you'll laugh at him, with him - you'll want to shake him up just to wake him up, and then pick him up when he falls - as he will.
This is one of those books that although a lot happens, nothing really changes, it was first published in 1937. According to Nicholas Lezard, it is "one of the greatest works of modern European literature". In some ways it reminds me of the writing of Henry Green, it has that sharp bright intellect, but is warmer, funnier and wears it's intelligence lightly.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful novel of discovery and escape from the world,
This is one of the most absorbing books I have read this year - there was no way I could put it down until I got to the end of it. Peopled with unforgettable characters like every one of us, this is a tale of love, death, individuality, courage, and conforming. The main characters are on a honeymoon trip in Rome, where they talk about their past lives and the people that affected them. There comes a point where the past and present meet, when it is not possible for love or life to continue; each character must make a choice to decide his or her own fate. The language is beautiful and the whole novel has eerie, Gothic undertones as we follow characters to their death, to isolated houses and mountains where they make an attempt to escape from a common, ordinary world. The language flows beautifully and makes you think about your own life as if you were being swept along by a stream of wisdom. This was wonderful, touching and self-reflective...highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Journey into the human soul,
This review is from: Journey by Moonlight (Kindle Edition)
This is the beautifully written tale of Mihaly, his lost youth with his friends Tamas and Eva and his marriage in later life to Erszi. The story starts simply enough with the couple on honeymoon in a country (Italy) which Mihaly has always thought of as a "grown up destination" associating it in his mind with adult things "like the fathering of children". The honeymoon is disrupted by the arrival of a friend from Mihaly's youth which leads him into a crisis which ultimately makes him desert his new wife and begin the "journey by moonlight" of the title. Beautifully depicted, both Mihaly's and Erszi's journies from Italy to Paris and ultimately back to their home towns is a journey of discovery of their selves. The themes of impermanence and nostalgia lend a bitter-sweet tinge to the story until the characters come to their final acceptance of the fact that they have a role to play; just one of many in their lives, but that they must play it. Thus, Mihaly's fate is to return to business and Erszi to the position of wife to a wealthy husband.
There is the sense of the fact that Mihaly and Erszi are travellers through their own lives. Consider Mihaly's "I still feel I am committing a mortal sin at every station where we don't get off. There's nothing more frivolous than travelling by train. One should go on foot, or rather in a mail-coach, like Goethe" He wants to progress slowly through his life and not miss a thing. Sadly, the train and inexorable rush of time is pulling him onwards and subverting this desire.
I had the sense when I was reading this book that it was a "worthy" book of the "high art order" as the translator notes. There's lots to discover in it, in varying subtexts and strands to the story. The story of the author (given at the end of my edition) and his demise in the labour camps adds to the poignancy of the story. And yet it is a light tale, gently ironic and humour-filled. I've downloaded the author's other works, as I found this novel a thoughtful, intelligent and easy to read introduction to this Hungarian author.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply magical,
With a subtle wit that allows the reader to be amused at the pretensions and foibles of the characters without making them unsympathetic or into just cyphers, Szerb tells the story of Mihaly and Erzsi and how their honeymoon unfolds. The novel is largely set in Italy and France, with flashbacks to the earlier life of Mihaly in Hungary which build into the picture of his character.
Journey by Moonlight is supposed to be a classic of Hungarian literature and I found that easy to understand from the English Translation by Len Rix. This novel and author deserve to be much more widely known.
The actual physical production of this volume by Pushkin Press is impressive with a sewn binding and very high quality paper used.
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic of hungarian literature and a must read generally,
This review is from: Journey by Moonlight (Kindle Edition)
Hungary - in spite of its modest size - has produced a raft of truly excellent novelists in the 20th century, including Sandor Marai, Arthur Koestler (with talents spanning beyond fiction into many other spheres) to Antal Szerb - the author of 'Journey by Moonlight. At the same time, with the partial exception of Koestler, who on occasion portrayed life from its lighter, more humorous side (for instance in Call Girls), they also look at the deeper, less happy elements of our existence - so an easy read they are often not.
'Journey by Moonlight' fully fits into this mould, being both beautifully written, and dealing with a - delayed I suppose - coming of age, or at least the topics related to it. And while some issues may not resonate quite to the same extent today as they did at the time of publishing - the entrance into a family firm and the associated resistance and the suicide curiosity then prevalent in society - the book is no less excellent for that.
It revolves around Mihaly, who is on his Italian honeymoon with Erzsi - the former wife of a good friend and business partner. The honeymoon is then the catalyst for a journey of self exploration, reminiscing and at times mourning his youth and getting to grips with his current situation. The book spans from Budapest, via various localities in Italy all the way to Paris, and the author does an excellent job of interweaving the past with the current events in the book and at no times does the occasional reminiscing appear forced or superfluous.
The writing - not being blessed with the ability to speak Hungarian I can only speak of the translation - is truly great and is a reason for reading the book on its own.
So overall, if you have enjoyed the other Hungarian masterpieces from the 20th century, such as Embers, or Darkness at Noon, I can only recommend Szerb's book to go with them.
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent, insightful and beautifully translated,
Antal Szerb, 1901-44, died in a forced labour camp at Balf, Western Hungary, as a result of his lifelong anti-Fascist stance and his Jewish ancestry. This book, considered the author’s masterpiece, was originally published in 1937 and is published by the excellent Pushkin Press in a translation by Len Rix. Rix also introduces an author who will be unknown to most in the English readers.
Mihály, a partner in his father’s legal practice, and his wife, Erzsi, are on honeymoon in Italy. He is a rather immature and married her after an affair. Since she had had a rich husband, Zoltán, one of Mihály’s concerns is to keep her in the manner to which she is accustomed. Zoltán sums up Mihály’s character by telling him ‘If I were a woman, and had to choose between the two of us, I too would have chosen you without hesitation and Erzsi surely loves you for being just the sort of person you are – so utterly withdrawn and abstracted that you haven no real relationship with anybody or anything, like someone from another planet, a Martian on earth, someone who never really notices anything’.
In a long fourth chapter, Mihály tells his wife ‘about [these] things from the past, because they are so important.’ This is necessary to understand his character and what happens in the course of the story but I found is rather hard going. Once this is out of the way, however, I was hooked.
Early on Mihály leaves their Rome train and his wife for a coffee and then catches the wrong train to Perugia. He is unconcerned and while Erzsi puts adverts in the papers seeking her lost spouse he regains contact with friends from his schooldays in Budapest, now scattered and having taken up very different lives in Umbria and Rome: János Szepetneki, an arch-manipulator and now a motorcycle-riding criminal, and the Catholic convert Ervin, who appears as Father Severinus. Szerb also offers Erzsi’s perspective as she takes up a new life in Paris where she lives with a girl friend and meets Zoltán once again.
Szerb populates his novel with some memorable characters, not least Millicent Ingram, a naïve American art student and her unseen spiritual supervisor, Professor Rebecca Dwarf, and Ellesley, a half English doctor who wished he could compete with Mihály for Millicent’s affections.
The author’s literary and historical knowledge is evident in the way that he describes Mihályi’s exploration of the Roman and Renaissance treasures across Italy. Some of these he knows from books in the house of his friends, Éva and Tamás Ulpinus, but it is his first experience of Mussolini’s Italy, ‘During his protracted years of wandering he had travelled in many lands, and spent long periods in France and England. But Italy he had always avoided, feeling the time had not yet come, that he was not ready for it. Italy he associated with grown-up matters, such as the fathering of children, and he secretly feared it, with the same instinctive fear he had of strong sunlight, the scent of flowers, and extremely beautiful women.’
Mihály is almost drunk by this experience and his actions, which may be seen in this light, are consistent with the saying ‘Enjoy the wine today, tomorrow there'll be none’ which could be Mihály’s credo. The author integrates the laid-back attitudes of the Italians and the Central European angst and depression that he shares with his school friends.
Szerb stands back from his characters and offers no moral judgements, leaving that to the reader. Mihály is self-indulgent claiming to posses high ideals that are dumped at any suggestion of personal inconvenience. He is a dreamer who lacks the perseverance to take his place in bourgeois society. However, the author, in a remarkable mix of sophistication, comedy and irony, makes him a truly engaging character, ‘some principle at the core of his being calls to us’.
The author’s language, beautifully translated by Rix, addresses dark and complex issues, including sex, incest and death which are encapsulated by the plays that the Ulpinus siblings created, ‘Day after day, Tamás and Éva strangled, poisoned, stabbed or boiled one another in oil’ and which attracted Mihály as a sacrificial victim. Years later, although stifled by a conformist lifestyle, he is unable to find an alternative. A friend from university, Waldheim, who possesses a superb intellect and is attractive to women, offers an example that Mihály through lack of self-belief, finds himself unable to emulate.
The context in which Szerb wrote this book and his fate cannot now be separated from its impact that still impresses almost 80 years later.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wholly involving,
Mihály, the central character of this elegant and stylish novel (beautifully translated by Len Rix) seems to belong to the early continental 19th century rather than to inter-war Budapest. He is a man in his late thirties, a neurotic and Romantic character, unworldly, more at home in history than in the present, ill at ease in his bourgeois setting at home and equally ill at ease about being in his late thirties. He has a great nostalgia for the time when, as an adolescent schoolboy, he was the hanger-on of a group of unconventional young people: Tamás (who several times tried to commit suicide and eventually managed it); his sister Eva (whom Mihály adored); Ervin (another of Eva's admirers, a convert to Catholicism from Judaism); and János, a suave trickster.
The book opens twenty years later, when Mihály is on his honeymoon in Venice with his wife Erszi. Erszi had left her first husband to marry Mihály because he was `different'; he had seduced and then married her because he was trying to be `normal'. But she did not understand just how `different' he was, and he could not cope with marriage; and, besides, he is haunted by the memory of the now mysterious Eva. During a stop-over on a railway journey, Mihály makes the Freudian error of getting onto one train while Erszi is travelling on another. He is relieved to be on his own and that noone can find him. He travels from one Italian location to another - all beautifully and sometimes hauntingly described. I must not reveal the many strange, mysterious and coincidental events that happen to him; but in any case his thought processes are at least as central to the story as are the various events.
Meanwhile Erszi, unable to face her family in Budapest as a deserted wife, makes her way to Paris. There she, too, in her own way, turns against the respectable bourgeois life she has hitherto been leading. Again I must not elaborate; but the story is full of fascinating psychological twists and turns (though one of them, in an ancient chateau on a rainy night, does, I must admit, strike me as uncharacteristically grotesque and over the top - quite out of tune with the delicacy of the rest of the novel.)
The note of death is heard throughout the novel. As a youngster Mihály had to take part in the theatricals staged by Tamás and Eva which invariably involved death, with Mihály willingly playing the sacrificial victim. Later, there are suicides, cemeteries, Etruscan sarcophagi and the apparent Etruscan notion that "dying is an erotic art", which so resonates with Mihály and had done so for Tamás. Mihály hears a remarkable lecture on that subject from Professor Waldheim, one of his former class-mates whom he meets in Rome - and from that moment onwards Szerb plays some extraordinary games with his readers.
A subtle, rich and wonderful book.
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Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb