After a bit of a hiatus, Read This Next is back, with a book of truly massive proportions. This week’s title is Parallel Stories by Hungarian author Peter Nadas, which is translated by Imre Goldstein and just out from FSG.
It’s impossible to mention this book without talking about its size and scope. The 1,133-page novel opens in 1989 with a university student in Berlin discovering a corpse during his morning run. From there, the novel stretches back to 1939 to relate a series of interconnected stories focusing on three “unusual” men: Hans von Wolkenstein, whose mother is linked to “secrets of fascist-Nazi collaboration,” Agost Lippay Lehr, whose father worked for Hungary’s political regimes, and Andras Rott, “who has his own dark record of mysterious activities abroad.”
Nadas spent 18 years writing this book (or series of books—I’ve always heard of this referred to as a trilogy), yet, according to editor Elizabeth Sifton, this is a very tight, very well-constructed novel.
And Tim Nassau, who reviewed this for us, claims it’s one of the best books he’s ever read, one that he would recommend indiscriminately. Here’s another bit of his review:
Most of the books I have reviewed for this site were only reviewed in one or two other places: small journals, literary blogs, a paragraph in Publishers Weekly, perhaps . . . This is, of course, the norm for literature in translation, and the discrepancy between the quality and coverage of these books has been bemoaned enough that I do not need to revisit it here. Every so often, however, a new book comes out that is big enough and important enough for its translation to be an event, and everyone takes notice. [. . .]
Which is why I do not intend to review Parallel Lives. Enough people will do so that several will surely do a better job than I could; Jonathan Lethem reviewed 2666 for the New York Times, and, to be honest, I find such a high level of competition intimidating. The case might be different if I hated the novel, if I believed that all the hype was just a ploy to move copies, but I do not believe these things. If you have come here to know, simply, if you should read this book, then the answer is yes. It is one of the best novels I have read, and I recommend it indiscriminately. Here is post-war Eastern Europe: an encyclopedia of people’s lives as exhaustive in detail as it is ambitious in scale, an unflinchingly honest depiction of political and personal perversions. Yes, the characters are the products of Nádas’s imagination, but the way he describes their emotions and motivations reveals such an uncommonly deep and sensitive understanding of what forces constitute any person that the reader cannot help but feel he is gazing at his own soul.
So instead of talking about the plot of the book, etc., Tim spends most of the review praising Imre Goldstein’s translation. You can read the full review by clicking here.
And after reading that, I’m sure you’ll want to read an excerpt from the book itself, which you can do by clicking here. (It’s fitting that this, the longest book we’ve featured in Read This Next also has the longest sample.)
In addition, you can also click here to hear Elizabeth Sifton’s comments on the book. It’s cool to hear her talk about this, and she manages to make this sound even more interesting.
Finally, FSG published this interview with Nadas, which is also worth checking out.
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