Kornél Esti

Deszo Kosztolanyi, Author, Bernard Adams, Translator, Deszo Kosztolanyi, Translator
Dezso Kosztolányi, trans. from the Hungarian by Bernard Adams, New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1843-6
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A collaboration between an unnamed narrator and his wild prankster of a friend, this collection of vignettes follows the adventures of the sometimes poet Kornél Esti from a Budapest coffee shop to his unlikely interactions with a Bulgarian train guard and other charmers, mostly of the early-20th-century, ink-stained variety. Esti, "a half-baked literary freak," is smart, funny, and exciting, apparently everything the narrator is not—"I paid dearly for our friendship," the narrator says. Kosztolányi (1885–1936) skillfully draws the narrator's admiration and envy of Esti, leaving the reader feeling the same sense of wonder for the ersatz hero that our increasingly invisible storyteller has. One can't help being charmed by the duo, one with "determined eccentricity" and the other with begrudging admiration, and Adams's clean translation, with helpful footnotes, makes this nearly 80-year-old novel feel almost modern and easily entertaining. (Feb.)
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