Parallel Stories: A Novel
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A New York Times Notable Book for 2011
In 1989, the year the Wall came down, a university student in Berlin on his morning run finds a corpse on a park bench and alerts the authorities. This scene opens a novel of extraordinary scope and depth, a masterwork that traces the fate of myriad Europeans―Hungarians, Jews, Germans, Gypsies―across the treacherous years of the mid-twentieth century.
Three unusual men are at the heart of Parallel Stories: Hans von Wolkenstein, whose German mother is linked to secrets of fascist-Nazi collaboration during the 1940s; Ágost Lippay Lehr, whose influential father has served Hungary's different political regimes for decades; and András Rott, who has his own dark record of mysterious activities abroad. The web of extended and interconnected dramas reaches from 1989 back to the spring of 1939, when Europe trembled on the edge of war, and extends to the bestial times of 1944–45, when Budapest was besieged, the Final Solution devastated Hungary's Jews, and the war came to an end, and on to the cataclysmic Hungarian Revolution of October 1956. We follow these men from Berlin and Moscow to Switzerland and Holland, from the Mediterranean to the North Sea, and of course, from village to city in Hungary. The social and political circumstances of their lives may vary greatly, their sexual and spiritual longings may seem to each of them entirely unique, yet Péter Nádas's magnificent tapestry unveils uncanny reverberating parallels that link them across time and space.This is Péter Nádas's masterpiece―eighteen years in the writing, a sensation in Hungary even before it was published, and almost four years in the translating. Parallel Stories is the first foreign translation of this daring, demanding, and momentous novel, and it confirms for an even larger audience what Hungary already knows: that it is the author's greatest work.
this day, he urinated like a little boy. He did not pull back his wrinkly, unusually long, funnel-shaped and pointy foreskin from his bulb, and when he finished he barely shook his member, letting some of the fluid be smeared on his fingers. He’d dig in with his fingers between his thighs under the testicles, where he always found for himself some worthy odor. Only rarely did he risk invading the cheeks of his buttocks to touch the crimped edge of his contracted anus. Perhaps to rub it just a
two-day-old newspapers rose and slipped sideways a little. Even then, I saw that woman again. Only her eyes, actually, because she held her scarf against her face. That early morning she wore not a hat but a turban. The cashmere scarf and the turban had the same color and pattern. In those days, the sight of such finery was not conspicuous; not even a Persian lamb or mink coat was. People wore many things that earlier they’d kept hidden and wouldn’t have dared to wear. As if they were in the
objectification. And in the perspective of this utopian knowledge, he considered it imperative to be repelled by German decadence. And, no less, by Mrs. Szemző’s Jewish decadence. And not only did he read Thomas Mann with great aversion but it was also very difficult for him to listen to compositions by Wagner, Mahler, or Richard Strauss all the way through to the end; they nauseated him. Years earlier, when studying in Weimar, the chair had become Madzar’s specialty, and if he ever was
furnishings exuded gloom, the way the maids carried away the superfluous settings, indicating their vast experience in removing traces of scandalous scenes. Quickly and tactfully. This practiced, easy behavior especially irritated her. What have I done, she was screaming to herself, what have I done. She had no idea what she could have wanted earlier from this strange man, and in what science she had wanted to stick her nose. She had enough social experience to know that accidents like these
And why is it interfering now. Why did I go limp because of it. She too needed to lean on something, and that made everything even more improbable. What I felt inside I could see on her. She was no longer protecting her hair with her arms; she leaned lightly against the car and I thought that in response to that positively inviting movement I would swoon at the sight of her. To keep this from happening, as if grasping at words to rescue myself, I said, screaming, that I’d like to tell her