Friday, 10 February 2012

Hungary's legendary Sindbad

I don't feel yesterday's post works, on Austrian-Hungarian literature available in English translation, alongside the tragic ends of the authors. I was inspired by New York Review Books' edition of Hungarian writer Gyula Krúdy's short story collection The Adventures of Sindbad.

In his excellent historical introduction, George Szirtes suggests the book might have served 'a young Hungarian man of the 1920s... as a working manual of sexual relations.' Within a couple of chapters, Krúdy's semi-autobiographical hero is dead, but Sindbad's pursuit of women continues nonetheless.

'He liked lies, illusions, fictions and imagination - he would love to have swung from the high trapeze in a rose-pink vest or been an organist at a princely residence, or a confessor in a Jesuit church! A sought-after gynaecologist in Pest or a young tutor in a girls' school!'

I love his description of an elderly passerby's attention to a former paramour: 'The old gentleman's eyes rolled over her like a beer barrel across a yard.' Sindbad's thoughts infuse Ginsberg with melancholy: 'Frivolous, holy, holy and wearisome life! How nice it would be to start again!' A feeling underlined in the next story: 'A pity I am too old to begin my life anew.'

In its Classics series, NYRB could be accused of assembling a nice bunch of misogynists, including Georges Simenon and Alberto Moravia (Boredom). With them Kruda offers a prayer: 'Lord... give me untroubled dreams and a quiet night. Stop my ears against words poured into it by women. Help me forget the scent of their hair, the strange lightning of their eyes, the taste of their hands and the moist kisses of their mouths.

'Lord, you who are wise, advise when they are lying, which is always. Remind me that the truth is something they never tell. That they never do love. Lord, up there, far beyond the tower, think occasionally of me, a poor foolish man, an admirer of women, who believes in their smiles, their kisses, their tickling and their blessed lies... Lord protect me, never let me fall into the hands of women.'

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