Zsuzsa Bank, Author, Margot B. Dembo, Translator , trans. from the German by Margot Bettauer Dembo. Harcourt $23 (278p) ISBN 978-0-15-100932-9

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THE SWIMMER Zsuzsa Bánk , trans. from the German by Margot Bettauer Dembo. Harcourt , $23 (288p) ISBN 0-15-100932-5

In this poignant story of loss and longing, first-time novelist Bánk sensitively portrays the barren world of 1950s Hungary through a child's eyes. Kata and her brother, Isti, are young children when their mother leaves their village one day without a word and eventually makes her way to the West. Katalin Velencei's abrupt departure unhinges her stern, bitterly depressed husband, Kálmán, and he embarks on a vagabond existence, dragging the children from one family member to another, never staying long enough to provide stability for the desolate siblings. Isti is the true victim; always a dreamy boy, he begins hearing voices in inanimate objects and finds his only comfort in swimming obsessively in lakes and rivers. Kata relates the story of their wanderings in a matter-of-fact, unemotional tone, trying to understand the grownups who determine her fate and well-being. "Among our people, nobody married for love," she says, and "My mother never contradicted my father. She deserted him." Bánk adroitly refers to the political events in mid-1950s Hungary as dimly perceived background to Kata's narrative. It's as though the violent events in the far-off world are echoed in the small tragedy of their lives. The novel's delicate treatment of Kata's stoicism and powerlessness makes the denouement of this resonant narrative especially heartbreaking. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 10/18/2004
Release date: 02/01/2005
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-15-603221-6
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