Writer: Peter Nadas - Hungary's grand master of storytelling turns 80

At the age of eight, the future writer Peter Nadas confidently told his mother that he hated the Jews.

Writer: Peter Nadas - Hungary's grand master of storytelling turns 80

At the age of eight, the future writer Peter Nadas confidently told his mother that he hated the Jews. The mother then forced him to look in the mirror. "Take a good look," she said, "there's a Jew, you can hate him." In interviews, the author emphasized that this is one of the few stories in his books that actually happened exactly as he described it.

The dark power of hate, the atrocities that people do to one another, the ideologies and atrocities of the 20th century are the major themes that run through Peter Nadas' life's work. His literature gets very close to the people. With the perspective of a surgeon or a photographer - for which he was trained at a young age, in order to practice this mastery alongside writing - Nadas captures what history and what relationships do to people. How they burn themselves into their postures, gestures, words, bodies. The literary critic Iris Radisch describes him as the "great surveyor of the European mental landscape".

Nadas was born on October 14, 1942 in Budapest. He survived the Holocaust with his family in hiding and with false papers. In the family of the adolescent, however, Jewish origin was not an issue. The parents were convinced and then disappointed communists. The mother succumbed to an illness when Nadas was 13. Three years later the father committed suicide.

From 1965 to 1969 Nadas worked for various newspapers, since then he has been a freelance writer. His spelling was only hesitantly accepted in communist Hungary. For almost twelve years he worked on the "Book of Remembrance" (German 1991), an opus of 1300 pages, which helped him to break through in the German-speaking world.

Small gestures and brief dialogues

Nadas' literary method is already recognizable in the three subtly intertwined narrative strands of the work. Three time levels - 1900, 1950 and 1970 - and three geographical areas - Hungary, Heiligendamm and East Berlin - form the stage for the love entanglements of three people. Descriptions of details, atmospheres, small gestures, brief dialogues, but also reflections constitute the narrative stream.

Nadas devoted 17 years to the novel "Parallel Stories" (German 2012). On the 1,700 pages of the German version, he weaves seemingly incoherent people, motifs and events into a universe beyond the text. Scenes and time levels often change abruptly. The author meticulously dissects the mutual effect of human bodies on each other, their mutual desire and the memories and human-historical catastrophes stored in them. The Holocaust and Stalinist terror do not appear directly in it. "Lighting Up Details" (German 2017), another monumental work of almost 1300 pages, deals exactly with this time and thus complements the "parallel stories".

A village on the Danube

His last novel "Schaugeschichten" was published in Hungary this year. According to the announcement by the Rowohlt publishing house, a German translation should be available in bookstores in the next few days. In it, Nadas returns to a more closed narrative form. The focus is on a fictitious Hungarian village on the Danube and its inhabitants in the 20th century. It is a polyphonic and powerfully eloquent story about greed and magnanimity, malice and resentment against the background of the catastrophically experienced upheavals of communism in the countryside: expropriation of property, forced cooperatives, rule by petty party officials.

"Man does not start a new era at 80," Nadas said in an interview with Hungarian news agency MTI earlier this month. "For me, the "horror stories" are a joke of old age, a farewell, a small joy, a wish fulfillment and a self-disclosure." For his further writing he strives at most for a change of perspective, "but by no means a new era". He still wants to write a few things, but not in monumental volumes, he added. At his age, you tire quickly. "The trees die standing up, I die while I write - well, that would be a nice death."

MTI interview with Nadas at the portal litera.hu, Ung. Announcement by the Rowohlt publishing house on the new publication