2012. november 13., kedd

Két régi ifjúsági regény leporolása / Dusting down two vintage novels for young adults

Készítettem a múlt héten egy videót, azt gondolván, így egyszerűbb lesz megcsinálni ezt a bejegyzést :-) ... Ígérem, ebből nem csinálok rendszert!


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(Below you can read the English transcription of this video)

Today's topics are two old novels; both of them were written decades ago, and were published in the early eighties the last time.
The first one I was talking about in the video was Mostohatestvérek ('Stepsisters') by Zsuzsa Thury, a popular writer of the communist times.

This book came out first in 1956 - this year was considered as a turning point in the Hungarian history.
( You may know, on the 23rd of October in 1956 demonstating people managed to break the communist regime, and only the Soviet interference could hold it back on the 4th of November. There were terrible backlashes of this event later on, but still, it was obvious that a different treatment was needed for the Hungarians. From then on there was a slight "softening up" period, compared to the harsh communist years of the fifties...Sorry, I am not fully accomplished in history. ) Obviously it means it was written before '56, a good example to see how young readers were supplied with literature in those years.
The tome I own came out in 1986, it was the 6th edition of the book. This version came out in the popular "dotty series", intended for teenage girls since the 50's. This series was very popular, so, please don't be surprised to read, that this book came out in 67000 pieces in 1986! ( These figures were not rare, but please mind the fact, that everything was different back then: the importance of teaching people to ideology, the sparetime activities, the entire Hungarian book industry, the prices of books, and - the occasional lies about facts.)
One should think, based on the title, that this book would be about some family issues - and it is not a bad guess, since in the dotty series you can often find similar things - introducing problems in the family, a few marginal characters, and then a resolution to these situations. In Stepsisters you can find a family matter, the union of two broken families - but in fact it is just used as a frame to dress it up with ideology, with a very clear message.
The plot is, that there is a family of a 13 year old girl, Teri Kis - a pioneer, and lives in Fót (a nearby village to Budapest ) with her mother, Eszti Kis, a widow, who works in the United Bulb factory. She used to work  at the rubberband, but as she is a good cadre, she could be promoted, and now she sits in an office, where "two phones ring constantly at her table", we learn to see how important Eszti's work is.
The grandmother Mrs. Bori Pápai, also a widow lives with them. Her late husband also used to work in the factory as a carpenter, she is a peasant woman.
One day Eszti comes home to tell her mother and her daughter that she got together with an engineer, László Örvös, in the factory, who is also a widow, and has a 13 year old daughter, Lilla, and his mother; they are going to get married - tomorrow! 
What is expected from the two grandparents and the girls is to move to a summer cottage in Visegrád (a small town at the riverbank of the Danube) together for one month the next day... And the newlywed couple goes  on honeymoon for one month to a holiday apartment of the workers' union ( I told you Eszti was a good cadre), while the house of the Örvös's gets extended for the enlarged family.... Can anyone believe this?? It is explained in the text, that these are the "modern, accelerated times" - but, for God's sake, noone reacts like a human, no resistence, no mentioning of emotional affections....
Anyway, the newlyweds leave early in the book, only to return at the very end, and for the rest we have the two grandmothers and the girls in the Visegrád house.
 As for the grandmothers: there is an irreconcilable class conflict between them, and basically this is the main topic of the book, to follow the simple village people's and the snobbish Pest people's clashes.

 And we, readers are forced to be involved in this puppet show - as it is quite obvious from the beginning, which party is right in this game.
  The characters are strongly determining the purpose of the book. We can see, that the real hero(ine) of this story is Mrs. Bori Pápai. She is shown as a peaceful, calm, silent person, who hardly speaks but whenever she opens her mouth, there is always a stress on it, so she is wise as well. She works hard, from early morning until dusk, but not like a martyr. She knows the people, she becomes popular among the locals, a very simple, very natural person - someone you can read about in some Russian realistic novel, like Tolstoy's or Sholohov's. Even her outlook reminds us to a peasant woman from Russia, but in an enlarged, exaggerated way: she is described as huge, with a huge head, huge arms... She is called by Lilla a "giant woman", and what we can see is really a giant. So, she is like a symbol of the nation: the moral and physical superiority. Just like the statue of the Nation's Mother above Kiev, or - a closer example - the robusted female figure of the Statue of Liberty in Budapest. 
We also learn that before and during the second world war she took her part in the illegal communist activities, just like her late husband.
Compared to her, the old Mrs.Örvös is in the opposite corner. She is the widow of an engineer, and - what a coincidence!, he also worked  in the factory, at a higher position, when the carpenter Pápai worked there. (It was before the communist times, when this factory was private... By the fifties it was taken by the communist state.) Mrs. Örvös, as we see her, is an always hesitant, anxious old lady, who keeps making observations on herself and how she is growing old. She often snaps her fingers, has a nervous tic, she is never determined... She is lost in Visegrád, keeps a distance with everyone, unable to run the household - until the Pápais arrived she had a housekeeper. 
The Pápais - the grandmother and Teri - are all comfortable there.They immediately take the household over, with all the work. They easily find their way; Teri finds the local shops, and meets other kids, pioneers. She likes everybody, and she is also like by everyone. She is naive, childish - perhaps a bit too much, as, I guess, by the time you are 13, it is just too bad that you grandmother warns you not to make a mess on your clothes...!? She is a happy, healthy little girl, with two thick ponytails, blue eyes, rosy cheeks...

Lilla, same age as Teri, could be her friend, too. But she is the opposite: she is tall, lean, weak. She just recovered from a heart operation, she doesn't even leave the house. She is cold and distant, almost evil. She has only one friend, the dog on a chainrope next door, whose rope is just long enough to reach the fence, so Lilla can caress him and talk to him.
I am not going to tell you what happens by the end - I guess you all know, anyway - , I would like to highlight one aspect of the book you are going to find pleasant: it is the introduction of the location, the historical town of Visegrád.
It is often mentioned in the book, we really get the spirit of the past centuries this place had seen in short stories and anecdotes ( Obviously the ones about going against the noble,  royal superiority are preferred.). You also need to know that this place housed the royal residence in the medieval age and during the renessaince times. The excavations took place during the entire twentieth century there, and it was a priorised project in the 50's and 60's, so - going to see the excavations and the recovered ruins is also part of the plot, as Teri can do it, but Lilla cannot. 
The location's participation interwoven in the text definitely uplifts the literary stake of the entire book, which otherwise shows a bit too many signs of the scheme-following novels of the fifties.

As for the other book - it came out the first time in 1965, as far as I know. It has never been part of any popular series, but still - the 1984 edition I have came out in 30000 pieces. Although half of the amount of Stepsisters, still a tremendous number.
  This book - only 9 years passed from the previous one - is by Júlia Székely, called Az ötödik parancsolat (' The Fifth Commandment'), referring to one of the Bible's Ten Commandments - and it is "You shall not kill". What a heavy title!

  What we get here is a novel written on two protagonists' conversation. From their long chats we learn about the story - who they are, where they are, what about their family, or classmates, or the weather, also a few pearls of wisdom  - and the plot of the novel as well.
There is a crime story keeping us excited, so, following this conversation we figure out about a crime as well.

 The two characters are Karcsi Nemere and his best friend, Gábor Skultéti - both of them are secondary school students, 16 year olds.

What happens here is the following: Karcsi Nemere on his 16th birthday gets visited by a strange woman. She claims to be his nanny from his early age, but Karcsi does not remember her. To prove, she shows an old photograph, where she is with the toddler Karcsi - but there is another little boy, same as Karcsi! She explains it was his twin brother and she asks to see him, but Karcsi has no knowledge on the existence of his brother.
From then on an investigation starts: Skultéti, his best friend assists to find out if the little brother has really lived, and if he did, what happened? Where is he? Is he still alive? 
You may be right to guess, that there is a similarity betwen the two boys and the famous crime investigator couples, such as Doc Watson and Sherlock Holmes. Particulary because there are hints about it: Skultéti's father, once a music teacher, now, after fleeing to London, a bar pianist, keeps sending IKKA-packages home, including crime stories in English, so his son would learn the language. And the methods of investigations, one may add.
Here we meet more than a "banal" crime story, as Karcsi Nemere has to face his past actually, which is rather painful for him. Thanks to the sensitive writing of Júlia Székely, we follow on his breakdowns as we learn more and more details. Besides that they find out about a sleeping case, there is an irreversible process of maturity taking place in the two boys.
We seem to be far from the fifties: it is also part of the 60's era, that there a certain "self-criticizm of the previous years" can be observed in general ( in order to correct the mistakes, and build the right communism - however, strangely enough, in this book the boys express their skepticizm towards the socialist society). Due to that, this book is freely talking about all the ugly facts of the previous decades, such as the deployments, staged-up trials, imprisonments, rehabilitations, deaths, immigrations, generation gaps and so on. 

Since the two teenagers talk, we receive all of these in a language that introduces the slang of the sixties, and this keeps the entire language of the story alive.
Again, the location is playing part in the story: we are located in a Southwestern town called Pécs, and by reading the book we can easily find our ways to the famous spots, the once prospering miners' suburbs around the town - again adding a special flavour to this book.

  As for the illustrations: in Stepsisters we find Károly Reich's works ( in my edition). The books for young adults all used to be illustrated, but these were ink dravings. So is Károly Reich's - he is one of the most famous Hungarian illustrators of the time, who - even with these limited tools - managed to create his own world, with his typical robusted figures, so much in synch with the content of the book.

István Hegedűs, the illustrator of The Fifth Commandment also uses ink, but his creatures are always tall and lean. There is an elegant melancholy in his figures; we can't really imagine them laughing wildly, but more with a fearful or dreading expression - which fits in this book creating suspense so heavy.

To sum it up, I need to say, we need to dig in the bookshelves deeply, so we can find true gems and imprints of the past times in vintage books. Carry on reading :-).

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