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The Door Paperback – 20 Oct 2005

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker; 1ST EDITION edition (20 Oct. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843431939
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843431930
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 2.3 x 22.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 798,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"'With Frau Szabó, you have caught a golden fish. Buy all of her novels, the ones she is writing and the ones she will write'" (Herman Hesse)

"'The Door has been waiting for us from more than sixteen years. It has just opened'" (Livres Hebdo)

"'In The Door the Hungarian Magda Szabó cleverly guides her intense and poignant novel, allowing the tension to rise in a crescendo'" (Madame Figaro)

Book Description

A story of the relationship between two women, one encouraging the other to emerge from her inner isolation. Poignantly sad but resolutely uplifting.

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By RachelWalker TOP 500 REVIEWER on 25 Jan. 2006
Format: Paperback
With being monumentally busy with uni work and other commitments, I hadn't read a book for about a month. So, I needed something really special to kick me off again. This book - the story of the relationship between a relatively affluent writer and her elderly, stubborn cleaner - looked as if it might fit the bill. It did. Published almost 20 years ago and only now translated into English, The Door by one of Hungary's most famous writer's, Magda Szabo, is a superb novel.
The book tells the story of the ever-changing relationship between a writer - Magda (yes, there's more than a hint of biography here) - and her domestic help, Emerence. Magda hires Emerence when she, struggling for success and recognition, can cope with all her domestic tasks no longer. A friend reccomends the enigmatic Emerence, who arrives for an interview and departs saying she will let them know as soon as she's attained some references about them. In time Emerence gets back to Magda: yes, she will take the job.
Emerence is a hypnotic enigma, much loved by her neighbours but little known. She has a hidden past, a home she will let no one into, is sparse in her communication but, in the end, is fiercely loyal and warm-hearted. Only when her mistresses husband falls ill does Emerence begin to shed the veil of secrecy she surrounds herself with, and cast light on her sometimes tragic past. This sets up a relationship that binds both women immensely strongly. Emerence demands as much loyalty as she herself gives, and Magda finds herself tested massively. As the novel progresses, and as their relationship gradually shifts and undergoes at least two massive tremors, events are unfolding that will end in tragedy.
This is an absolutely fabulous work of fiction.
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Format: Paperback
At a first glance the novel seems to be simple: the book is about the relationship between two women: an author and her housekeeper. However, if you stuck strictly to this statement you'd be oversimplifying the book and what it is about. As you go through the pages events of the past in flashes come to the surface, making the end shocking and dramatic.
Magda Szabo is one of the most charismatic writers of our time: her books are highly popular in Hungary and abroad. Her books have been translated into more than 20 languages.
Her charisma can be strongly felt in her novels as well. reading her books is like putting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together: at the end all pieces come to their place and the reader is left breathless with the dramatic and cruel fate the characters are bound to face. It is fate looming over people, unavoidable in Szabo's books, arising from the circumstances and personality of the characters.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars 262 reviews
67 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The little lady downstairs 11 Feb. 2004
By Jacqueline Karp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a story that could be the story of anyone's forgotten grandmother. And much more besides. Set in Budapest, Magda Szabo's writer-narrator tells us, in a style that literally pours itself out on the page and won't let go of the reader, of her relationship with the little lady downstairs, the old concierge who started out as her housekeeper and ended up ruling her life. It is a bewildering tale of love-hate relationships, set against a vague backcloth of communist Hungary and the aftermath of world war II; it is also an analysis of guilt and an apology for tolerance of people's varied beliefs, and the final scenes make one wonder if the narrator isn't apologising for her country and not only herself.
For once also, here is a novel which accords an important place to the role of animals in our lives. Viola, the dog, has an important part to play, and the detailed and profound observation of animal behaviour is perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of the book.
40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dramatic & charismatic 9 Nov. 2005
By Lili_K - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
At a first glance the novel seems to be simple: the book is about the relationship between two women: an author and her housekeeper. However, if you stuck strictly to this statement, you'd be oversimplifying the book and what it is about. As you go through the pages events of the past in flashes come to the surface, making the end shocking and dramatic.

Magda Szabo is one of the most charismatic writers of our time: her books are highly popular in Hungary and abroad. Her books have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Her charisma can be strongly felt in her novels as well. Reading her books is like putting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together: at the end all pieces come to their place and the reader is left breathless with the dramatic and cruel fate the characters are/were bound to face. It is fate looming over people, unavoidable in Szabo's books, arising from the circumstances and personality of the characters.
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Locked Door 24 Jun. 2015
By jonathan briggs - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As the communist bonds around Hungary loosen, an artist is given room to breathe, enjoy the fruits of successful expression and partake in the bourgeois benefits of domestic help.

The unnamed writer who narrates Magda Szabo's "The Door" hires Emerence the housekeeper almost sight unseen. "I didn't know then that the only time I would ever see her without a headscarf would be on her deathbed. Until that moment arrived she always went about veiled."

Emerence immediately clouds the question of who is interviewing whom. "If she didn't warm to us, no amount of money would induce her to accept the job."

Emerence deigns to accept employment but on her own terms, setting her own hours, defining her own job parameters. Then she sets about awing the writer and her husband. "The old woman worked like a robot. She lifted unliftable furniture without the slightest regard for herself. There was something superhuman, almost alarming, in her physical strength and her capacity for work."

In her off hours, Emerence locks herself away in her flat, behind shuttered windows and a door that does not budge for company. The town abounds with rumors about what she's hiding in there: a dead body, imprisoned animals, loot plundered from the Jews carted off during the war?

"For many years we mattered very little to her," the writer says. "This changed suddenly, when my husband became ill." Emerence scolds the writer for shutting her out of the family crisis, "like a stranger." Despite her hermetic boundaries, Emerence is obsessively charitable, playing brusque angel of mercy to the community, tending the sick, feeding the hungry, adopting the strays. Just don't come knocking on her door.

"Emerence didn't know the words of St. Paul, but she lived them." Although she practices Christian charity, she certainly doesn't count herself among the Christians. Emerence caustically mocks and maligns the writer's religious observances. The narrator muses about the risk Emerence is taking of "a bolt from above to strike her dead," and shortly afterward, she learns that Emerence is a childhood survivor of one of God's fiery volleys, most of her family exterminated in a quick succession of tragedies.

Such personal revelations combine with the husband's sickness to bring the women closer, though Emerence remains prickly and manically unpredictable. When she's not castigating her employers for their high-falutin' faults, Emerence expresses her affection for the couple through deposits of gifts, eccentric knickknacks and geegaws, some of practical use, some pure clutter. At first, the writer is touched by Emerence's outpouring, though her husband would prefer his study unsullied by garage sale garden gnomes. When the writer tries to draw the line at a particularly tacky item and explain to Emerence the distinction between objets d'art and kitsch, Emerence explodes into one of her frequent, apocalyptic rages, pouring scorn over the author's ideas of art.

Unwittingly echoing the Italian neorealists or predating the Danes of Dogme, Emerence insists that if the writer and her contemporaries were truly creating art, "then everything would be real. ... You're all clowns, and more contemptible than clowns. You're worse than con men."

Emerence is not unintelligent, but she's willfully ignorant of what some might call the higher pursuits of the mind. "In her eyes, any work that didn't involve bodily strength and use of the hands was loafing, little better than a conjuring trick." She holds little regard for literature or philosophy. "Writing was an occupation comparable with play. The child took it seriously, and carried it out with great care ... though it was only play, and nothing depended on it." How does a person who lives through the written word communicate with a person who rejects it? "She glanced at our books for only as long as it took to dust them. ... The decades of her life in Hungary had exposed her only to the rhetoric she so hated, and which had drained away any interest she might have had in poetry. By the time she might have heard something different, she had lost the desire to enrich her mind."

Politics, the poisoner of poetry. Emerence reserves her most vehement contempt for the political, and here I'm in complete agreement with her. Politics is best restricted to those naïve enough to swill that Kool-Aid and those amoral enough to prey upon the first group. On a deserted island somewhere far away...

Like most writers who would find such a character dropped in their laps, the narrator tries to penetrate Emerence's irascibility to discover what lies beyond her figurative and literal doors. "Somewhere in her past" is the key to Emerence.

I imagine if I put in the effort, I could probably tie the events and characters of "The Door" to all kinds of allegorical parallels drawn from Hungary's history of oppression under the far right, then under the far left. I'd best leave that to the scholars and trust they're not just making stuff up.

I don't feel like I'm female or Hungarian enough to delve into this book as far as it might have needed. Perhaps it's one of the shortcomings (no pun intended, believe me!) of reading with a penis, but I didn't understand the stakes of the power struggle between Emerence and the narrator, why the women inspire such fierce emotions within each other and what keeps them so inextricably tied. They come to the point of frothing fits over matters such as whom the dog likes better and the aesthetic qualities of junkyard treasures. Really? This is worth screaming about? I found myself identifying with the writer's reserved husband: You two go squawk it out someplace else. Just don't touch my bookshelves. That might make me a myopic American philistine. I've played worse roles, I suppose.

The writer venerates Emerence as "pure and incorruptible, the better self that each and every one of us aspired to be." Yet Emerence is frequently cruel and biting and vindictive, the kind of person who flogs dumb animals when they displease her. The writer professes love and devotion, yet she deserts Emerence during an emergency, so she can shill her book on TV. And apparently, Emerence is the only housekeeper in all of Hungary, for when she goes off in one of her periodic huffs, everything is thrown into crisis and chaos. I'm a spoiled, capitalist swine, and I've been cleaning up after myself (sort of) since I was about 4.

Perhaps this all makes sense on some deeper symbolic level that I'm not privy to. I assume there's more to this story than two stubborn, petty, irrational women selfishly trying to impose their wills on each other. Maybe not. Whatever might lie beyond the surface of "The Door," it evaded me.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece! 16 April 2015
By nina lalumia - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a heart-breaking and sensitively thoughtful story about the long-term friendship between two very different women: one an intellectual and a writer (named Magda, like the real author), the other her hired help, housekeeper, cook (named Emerence). Emerence has experienced a lot of pain and trauma in her life, and as a result keeps her heart and private life closely guarded, literally and figuratively behind a locked door. Hence the title. But she eventually lets Magda in. It also involves a lovely portrait of a dog that Magda adopts, but who recognizes in Emerence her true mistress. This aspect is a beautiful portrayal of what animals can bring to our lives. Ultimately, IMHO, Emerence represents the best of Hungarian traditional culture, and the pain and loss incurred during WWII. The way in which the best was betrayed. Finally, quite a major theme in the book is Christianity and what its true meaning is, morally and interpersonally, in contrast to doctrine and ritual.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the world's greatest writers 2 Nov. 2015
By Nellie Voratnatz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A devastatingly powerful book about the compassion of an old woman for her community and her relationship with a younger woman, a writer enclosed in both ambition and self regard. But these cursory descriptions are too simplistic to capture one of the most nuanced pieces of writing on class, the ways of the heart, the war between love and ambition, work and responsibility for suffering, which I have ever read. As in Elsa Morante's novels animals play a central role without a shred of sentimentality by the author.
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