19 May 11 | Chad W. Post

One of the fall books that I’m interested in checking out is Peter Nadas’s Parallel Stories, an extremely long trilogy (like 1200 pages long) that’s coming out from FSG this October.

This week, in FSG’s consistently interesting Works in Progress newsletter has an interview with Nadas about this new book. Here’s an excerpt:

This fall FSG will publish Parallel Stories by acclaimed Hungarian author Péter Nádas. Editor Elizabeth Sifton writes, “After his last novel, A Book of Memories, appeared in English in 1997, many critics and readers agreed with Susan Sontag’s assessment that it was the greatest novel written in postwar Europe. But Nádas was already moving past that signal achievement. And now we can see how Parallel Stories—which took eighteen years to write, Nádas has said, and appeared in Budapest in 2005—extends and deepens the scope of his fiction, both in historical terms and in the most intimate, hidden terms of body and soul. The multilevel narrative reaches back to the 1930s, thickens in the crisis seasons of 1944–45, 1956, and 1961, and thrusts forward to 1989; and at every point we experience the intense and daring ways that the men and women he so memorably creates live through or transcend, create or deny the brutalities of their strife-torn times. This is a great novel about the twentieth century and, with its dazzling formal innovations and daring candor, a postmodern novel for the twenty-first.” [. . .]

Csaba Károlyi: You wrote an article called “Structure and Plot Patterns in Parallel Stories,” in which you formulated the creative problem at the crux of the novel. You wrote: “I could no longer escape the thought that prose writing actually works as the maid-servant of causal thinking.” Your aim was “to write the stories of people who can’t ever have met, who have only a very superficial knowledge of each other, and yet interfere most profoundly with each other’s lives.” I can see that your characters are intertwined even more closely than that, though, and still, the whole thing does not fall to pieces or become chaotic. As if the plan had been more radical than its realization. And in any case the reader will insist on deciphering on a causal basis, no matter what.

Péter Nádas: And they will succeed, too. I try to leave open the points that offer clues for this deciphering. Not in all cases, though.

We constantly strive to control the effect of our words or actions. The question is what sort of qualities this effort produces in other people. I have no guarantees concerning the perceptions of others. I tried to take all of this into account when I created connections between the different people, plot lines, or historical periods.

And then some systems are identical, others are similar, and yet others are different. We can say that people act along similar or even identical lines because they had similar upbringings or are constitutionally alike. And there are also differences according to these criteria—when, for example, you do something or other not because that’s the way you were socialized, but because you’re going against your socialization, following your instincts, or acting upon
your convictions. People can have direct and strong interactions; there are cases of both direct and indirect impact: when A has influenced B but does not know C, who was influenced by B, then, although A doesn’t know it, he or she actually influenced C. A causal relationship always tries to stick to being unequivocal, but I tried not to lose sight of the multivalence of things. This naturally yielded structures that no longer fit into the structure of causal thinking. Naturally, causation isn’t entirely absent but it falls into a totally different context or exists in a different space from the start.

The whole interview can be found here.

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