Ghosts, Literal and Figurative, Haunt Magda Szabo’s Novel

Magda Szabo in 1985. Isolde Ohlbaum/laif, via Redux KATALIN STREET By Magda Szabo Translated by Len Rix 235 pp. New York Review Books. Paper, $15.95. Like many American readers, I was first introduced to Magda Szabo’s work when New York Review Books reissued the Hungarian master’s profound and haunting novel “The Door.” Luckily for us, they have not stopped there. A translation of “Iza’s Ballad” followed, and now we have “Katalin Street,” originally published in Hungarian in 1969 and elegantly translated into English by Len Rix. When I started to read “Katalin Street,” I couldn’t help comparing it to “The Door” — so struck was I by the divergent narrative approaches. Distilled and claustrophobic, “The Door” centers on the relationship between the narrator — a writer — and her housekeeper, Emerence. As time wears on, the two women come to be bound by a furious, unpredictable intimacy. “Katalin Street” takes a baggier shape, crisscrossing through time and perspective as the novel tracks the fates of three families — the Elekeses, the Temeses and the Helds, who are Jewish — in a zigzag that covers prewar Budapest, the German occupation and Communist rule; the longer of two sections, “Moments and […]

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