11 July 08 | Chad W. Post

This is the sixteenth Reading the World 2008 title we’re covering. Write-ups of the other titles can be found here. And information about the Reading the World program—a special collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June—is available at the official RTW website. There’s also a podcast discussing RTW available from World Books.

Following on yesterday’s post about Peter Nadas, comes today’s RTW feature on another Hungarian author worth reading—Peter Esterhazy. Esterhazy is considered to be one of the most influential Hungarian writers of the twentieth century, and one of the more experimental. A number of his books—including A Little Hungarian Pornography and She Loves Me—are available from Northwestern University Press.

Celestial Harmonies (Ecco) is his most recent book to be published in English, and focuses on his family history.

The Esterhazys, one of Europe’s most prominent artistocratic families, are closely linked to the rise and fall of the Hapsburg Empire. Princes, counts, commanders, diplomats, bishops, and patrons of the arts, revered, respected, and occasionally feared by their contemporaries, their story is as complex as the history of Hungary itself.

The book is a massive 846 pages and pulls sentences (or a word or two) from over a hundred different authors. As Judith Sollosy states in her introduction:

Indeed, Celestial Harmonies is monumental in scope. The author pays tribute to his father not by reductionism (“this is what my father was like”) but by expansion (“my father was all fathers and all men whose lives collided with Hungarian history”). He is a monster, and he is an angel, but above all, he is a man wrestling with the meaning of God. At least, this is one of the recurrent themes of Book One, which the father leaves ambling along, bent, like a straightened-out saxophone, his head lowered to prevent him from banging it into the heavenly spheres.

What’s not mentioned in this paperback edition is any mention of Esterhazy’s follow up, Revised Edition, which is an “appendix” to Celestial Harmonies. After writing Celestial Harmonies, Esterhazy found out that his father was an informer for the secret police, causing him to write an entirely new history . . . Unfortunately, Revised Edition hasn’t been translated into English, and I haven’t heard about anyone working on this . . . Which is too bad—taken as a pair, these two books would be fascinating to read one after another.


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