Hungarian literature is not as famous or appreciated as it should be in international circles. One of the reasons is the lack of English translations and publications available, which automatically limits the number of readers. Thankfully, there are a few excellent novels that have been translated into English, of which you can find below. This list is limited, however, to books that have been published in the UK or the US and are still available to purchase today.
Sándor Márai – Embers
Sándor Márai is famous for his short, but poignant novels exploring human nature. Embers is arguably his most famous work, about friendship. An old general, who grew up in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, invites his lifelong friend for dinner. The twist to the setup is the fact that they have not seen each other in 41 years, due to an unresolved conflict between them. The reader can experience the power of human relationships, betrayal, and loyalty through the eyes of the two main characters. I would call it the friendship-novel, due to its analysis of camaraderie. Sándor Márai’s writing is effective at pointing out how ordinary or seemingly unimportant events can prove to be life changing.
Even though it was published in Hungarian in 1942, the English translation only appeared in bookshops 60 years later, in 2001.
Magda Szabó – The Door
Magda Szabó is arguably the most widely known Hungarian author, because her books have been translated into 30 different languages. Therefore, I encourage everyone to look her up and read some of her work, it is well worth it.
The Door, though not as famous as her other novel, Abigail, has received critical acclaim internationally. It is the story of a couple who develop a strong relationship with their judgemental but hardworking housekeeper. Through this friendship the main character, who is a bit like the real Magda Szabó, gets to know herself and understands that behind an appearance there is always a complex human being waiting to be explored.
After reading the book you could even watch the movie that was based on it, with Helen Mirren playing the housekeeper.
Antal Szerb – Journey By Moonlight
This novel is often referred to as the Bible of nostalgia. The story is about a man, who escapes his wife and duties on their actual honeymoon in Italy. The main character does not want to conform or to give up his real self and ambitions for a mundane life accepted by society. Antal Szerb is combining dark humour with tragedy, while delving into fate and the sadness behind everyday life.
These novels should evoke questions about ourselves, such as what kind of friends we are, how do we interpret loyalty and treachery, how much should we give up of ourselves for acceptance, or the most obvious one: why do we need human connection to feel fulfilled?