Parallel Stories: A Novel
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A New York Times Notable Book for 2011
In 1989, the year the Wall came down, a university student in Berlin on his morning run finds a corpse on a park bench and alerts the authorities. This scene opens a novel of extraordinary scope and depth, a masterwork that traces the fate of myriad Europeans―Hungarians, Jews, Germans, Gypsies―across the treacherous years of the mid-twentieth century.
Three unusual men are at the heart of Parallel Stories: Hans von Wolkenstein, whose German mother is linked to secrets of fascist-Nazi collaboration during the 1940s; Ágost Lippay Lehr, whose influential father has served Hungary's different political regimes for decades; and András Rott, who has his own dark record of mysterious activities abroad. The web of extended and interconnected dramas reaches from 1989 back to the spring of 1939, when Europe trembled on the edge of war, and extends to the bestial times of 1944–45, when Budapest was besieged, the Final Solution devastated Hungary's Jews, and the war came to an end, and on to the cataclysmic Hungarian Revolution of October 1956. We follow these men from Berlin and Moscow to Switzerland and Holland, from the Mediterranean to the North Sea, and of course, from village to city in Hungary. The social and political circumstances of their lives may vary greatly, their sexual and spiritual longings may seem to each of them entirely unique, yet Péter Nádas's magnificent tapestry unveils uncanny reverberating parallels that link them across time and space.This is Péter Nádas's masterpiece―eighteen years in the writing, a sensation in Hungary even before it was published, and almost four years in the translating. Parallel Stories is the first foreign translation of this daring, demanding, and momentous novel, and it confirms for an even larger audience what Hungary already knows: that it is the author's greatest work.
Because she felt the importance of that moment, she did not allow the man’s violent thrusts to enter her. She sensed unerringly the peaks of his unassimilated torments, the heights he aspired to, his frustrated desires. And as if propelling herself up from the familiar depths of sunshine-illuminated water, with her taut body spanning the distance between the riverbed and the faraway surface, she found, among her own images, a simile for what she felt emanating from the man. With a ready-to-bounce
the sky, Ilona Bondor’s red freckles. And for this permanent weakness I despised myself. Why am I so weak and foolish. The rotten door closed tight enough for me to be sure the dog wouldn’t break out and follow me. In the old days, two awful hags used to clean the basement. They came from Pest on the streetcar; they weren’t from the country. Heavy, large-bodied women, they wore rubber aprons and rubber boots and dragged their red water hoses after them everywhere. Wherever they appeared,
just let it all out. The urine would first collect on the stool and then drip down from it. She would listen to the trickling. She saw it; she saw immeasurable amounts of fluid flowing out. She became alarmed at the mere desire for a flooding. She had to repress, squeeze back into herself the heat of her burning slit, which made her posture rigid. She stared out into the night as if watching a movie about her frightened and irritated self. A sliding glass-paned door opened from the hallway
matter from whom the Hungarians had retaken the city, it never became theirs again. Today, the Hungarian town lived on solely in the houses’ closed yards, alive with yelping dogs. It was easy to say that the city still wore on its forehead the memory of the devastating defeat there, which over the centuries had become the symbol of the final hours of Hungary’s independent kingdom. But Madzar, returning from abroad, saw it the other way around: with the help of the historical baggage he had
deformities and bodily abnormalities, and we carefully collect them, categorize and label them. Of course God did not specify what the norms of perfection were and we have no way of knowing whether he deposited them somewhere. Maybe it won’t interest you, but Schuer wrote his postdoctoral thesis on this very subject, and our bloodiest arguments are over questions of pathology. Ever since then, he’s been publishing the same paper over and over in all the racial-biological textbooks, to the point