28 April 14 | Kaija Straumanis

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by P.T. Smith on Towards the One & Only Metaphor by Miklós Szentkuthy, translated by Tim Wilkinson, and out from Contra Mundum Press.

Patrick is a regular reviewer of ours by now, and a huge, massive, supportive fan of all literature in translation.

Here’s the beginning of his review:

It is an unusual thing to see a press specifically focus on a single author, but that is what Contra Mundum Press has done with Hungarian author Miklós Szentkuthy, and if Towards the One & Only Metaphor is any basis to judge the rest of his work, the decision is one to be celebrated. Though one of those novels (this term used here in its most all-encompassing definition) that is “not for everyone” and one that is unabashedly difficult, it is also inviting and at its highest points gorgeous, thrilling, and plainly new, even if it was originally published in 1935. Szentkuthy makes it clear throughout the work that he is aware of the challenge he is asking readers to undertake with him, and more than once expresses an attitude not of the confidence and bullying that authors like Nabokov or Joyce hold dear, but instead a reassurance that a reader doesn’t need understanding firmly embedded in concrete for every passage—at one point Szentkuthy admits he is “too lazy” to define a concept, moves on with the sense of a definition, letting implied understanding between writer and reader hold the course.

Called “nearly-unclassifiable” and “something of a manifesto” by the jacket copy, Towards the One & Only Metaphor is made up of 122 numbered sections. They run a wild gamut that includes philosophical musings, theological rumination, aesthetic riffs, historical fictions, seeming diary entries, contemporary vignettes, and, because why not, a few lists. Ideas, historical persons, phrases, and images reoccur and link sections, Szentkuthy becomes suddenly enamored with an idea or a strategy, holds it for a while, and then drops it, having exhausted its engine and come to the end of the path. All of this works for the reader willing to dive in deep, find their sources of joy or connection, and when lost in a section, patiently move forward with Szentkuthy to find their next bright spot.

That sense of moving with Szentkuthy runs throughout the work and is an essential bit of surrender that the reader needs to make. Rarely has a single word in a title, “towards,” seemed so apt to both the author’s aims and the reader’s path to grasping those aims, and enjoying the way. Towards the One & Only Metaphor is a paced novel, moving in and out of various rhythms, but always having one. Szentkuthy does not force you along, his are not waves that drown you if you are unable to float with them, but gentler waves that leave you behind if you don’t find the current, or send you down an offshoot tributary, lost. This control of movement is true from the numbered sections through to word-to-word connections. Often, it seems better to read a sentence, enjoy the sounds and pace, but not comprehend totally, and move on to the next, rather than hold up the ongoing towards. When you are fully in sync, in understanding, in rhythm, the book comes to life and that is when the most glorious moments are encountered. When lost, unclear, one can give up and float down the gentle river with him, or hit the shore and walk back not a sentence or two, but a paragraph or more, to get back in the water and find both clarity and the movement. For an author to bring diverse influences, tones, and styles into a single towards is a wonder, and we are fortunate that translator Tim Wilkinson has the same sense, and grateful to the wisdom of Contra Mundum to not only commit to Szentkuthy as an author, but to Wilkinson as his translator.

For the rest of his piece, head here


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
The Indian
The Indian by Jón Gnarr
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .

Read More >

Mother of 1084; Old Women; Breast Stories
Mother of 1084; Old Women; Breast Stories by Mahasweta Devi
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .

Read More >

Tristana
Tristana by Benito Pérez Galdós
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband.. . .

Read More >

The History of Silence
The History of Silence by Pedro Zarraluki
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .

Read More >

Flesh-Coloured Dominoes
Flesh-Coloured Dominoes by Zigmunds Skujiņš
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .

Read More >

Iraqi Nights
Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .

Read More >

Three-Light Years
Three-Light Years by Andrea Canobbio
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in. . .

Read More >

The Little Horse
The Little Horse by Thorvald Steen
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .

Read More >

Guys Like Me
Guys Like Me by Dominique Fabre
Reviewed by Peter Biello

We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .

Read More >

Birth of a Bridge
Birth of a Bridge by Maylis de Kerangal
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .

Read More >