Pre-vacation reading
September 12, 2007 6:51 AM   Subscribe

Any recommendations for a book set in Budapest or Hungary?

In a couple of weeks I’ll be visiting Budapest for a long weekend (I’m from New York). One of my favorite things to do before visiting a new city is to read a book (usually a novel) set there. Something that incorporates a bit of history/historical fiction would be terrific, but a contemporary setting would be fine, too. I love to read but don’t have time for a huge tome before I leave—so maybe 200-500 pages? Authors I like run the gamut from Dickens to Willa Cather to John Irving, Toni Morrison, and Margaret Atwood. Oh, and I’d be interested in reading a memoir, autobiography, or other work of narrative nonfiction if that’s my best option. I think it’s obvious, but this will have to be in English.
posted by CiaoMela to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Good Master, by Kate Seredy, is set in Hungary during maybe the 1930's? It is a lovely book and has a fair amaount of Hungarian cultural stuff in it. It is surely worth reading as an adult but was probably written for young adults.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:59 AM on September 12, 2007


Despite what one might gather from its title, Prague, by Arthur Phillips is set in Budapest. I haven't read it, but have had it recommended to me in the past.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:00 AM on September 12, 2007


Peter Nadas is a pre-eminent Hungarian novelist. I've only read "A Book of Memories," which I really loved, although it's quite long and very reminiscent of Proust's novel, and therefore may not be great for vacation reading (depending on your druthers). He's written several shorter books that have been translated into English as well, and I'm confident that they're good, although I cannot personally vouch for them.
posted by OmieWise at 7:03 AM on September 12, 2007


Imre Kertész is also Hungarian, and quite a good writer, who won the Nobel Prize in 2002.
posted by OmieWise at 7:06 AM on September 12, 2007


László Krasznahorkai's novel The Melancholy of Resistance is wonderful, if rather intense & bleak: it's set in an unnamed provincial town, rather than Budapest.
posted by misteraitch at 7:23 AM on September 12, 2007


If you want to get a feel for turn-of-the-century Budapest, you want something that's usually filed in the children's section: The Paul Street Boys. I don't know how good the translation is that I linked to, but the story is timeless and the setting really gives you a feeling of being there.

Another more "grown up" book is Kosztolányi's Skylark (Pacsirta) which is an amazingly good slice-of-life portrait from the same time. It's set in a smaller town than Budapest, but the atmosphere is right. The translation I linked to is very good. Kosztolanyi's style is terse and direct, sort of like a Hungarian Hemmingway, and it's captured well.

For something more modern, set in the communist era - around 1956, as a matter of fact - Tibor Fischer's Under the Frog is just about unbeatable. It's black humor, so maybe not everyone's style, but again, the sense of being there is palpable. Also, the book was written in English and Fischer is a genius-level wordsmith, but he also has a knack for writing "like a Hungarian" in some way - it just sounds right.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:29 AM on September 12, 2007


Oh, yes, The Melancholy of Resistance is great. (And has one of the best titles ever.)
posted by OmieWise at 7:33 AM on September 12, 2007


Best answer: Seconding Prague (and I have read it; it's great).
posted by occhiblu at 7:39 AM on September 12, 2007


Michener's Bridge at Andau is another good (historical) book about 1956. It's an early book from him, much shorter and to the point than the big novels that are usually associated with his name.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:51 AM on September 12, 2007


Thirding Prague. I read it shortly after I went to Budapest and kept wishing I had known about it before my trip.
posted by wsquared at 8:59 AM on September 12, 2007


Consider also the brilliant travel narratives by Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. He tells of his walk from London to Constantinople, though he still owes us a third book finishing the story. Between the Woods starts when he crosses the Danube into Hungary, though I would suggest reading the first book, too. Though not published until years later, these are based on his travels in the 1930s, which is a fascinating time period.

Prague is more focused on Budapest, but these are good for a general flavor of the country.
posted by chinston at 9:43 AM on September 12, 2007


I'm reading the Historian after reading this thread.
Not in Hungary, but a lot of traveling around Eastern Europe, including nearby Romania. Highly recommended, especially if you like historical fiction.
posted by jpdoane at 10:36 AM on September 12, 2007


Also, because the paperback recently came out, I got the hardcover ad B&N for about $6
posted by jpdoane at 10:37 AM on September 12, 2007


A friend of mine read Ballad of the Whiskey Robber and couldn't stop raving about it. Haven't had a chance to pick it up myself. Amazingly, it is supposed to be a true story, too.
posted by sbrollins at 12:34 PM on September 12, 2007


Patrick Leigh Fermor seconded. Ballad Of The Whiskey Robber is quite true and funny to boot. I'm in Budapest right now!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:03 PM on September 12, 2007


Chico Buarque's Budapest. And yes, it's in english.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 2:25 PM on September 12, 2007


I forgot Baron Bagge by Alexander Lernet-Holenia: an atmospheric tale set in rural Hungary during the First World War.
posted by misteraitch at 3:04 PM on September 12, 2007


Response by poster: Wow, tons of great responses! I think I'll have enough to keep me busy both before and after the trip. Thanks, everyone. I'll try to mark some best answers once I've taken a look at the books.
posted by CiaoMela at 6:27 AM on September 14, 2007


After some more reading of the Historian, they do spend a few chapters in Budapest, and a few of the major characters grew up in Hungary
posted by jpdoane at 12:20 PM on September 19, 2007


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