cover image The White King

The White King

Gyorgy Dragoman, , trans. from the Hungarian by Paul Olchváry. . Houghton, $24 (263pp) ISBN 978-0-618-94517-7

Dragomán draws from his eastern bloc upbringing in this brutal, fragmentary novel. Djata is an 11-year-old boy coming to grips with his father’s abduction and internment at a forced labor camp. His mother, preyed upon by secret police officers and venal dignitaries, is powerless to save her husband, and Djata’s paternal grandfather, an unrepentant Party man, blames the internment on Djata’s mother as he spirals into alcoholism and madness. Meanwhile, Djata’s excursions in school, among his friends, at sports and in the countryside, almost without fail, are exercises in nihilism and cruelty. Beaten and threatened by coaches, teachers, construction workers and even complete strangers, children absorb the violence and terror and re-enact it on one another. An unremitting terror drives most of Djata’s life, even when authority figures are not present. Dragomán conveys Djata’s fearful mental landscape with unadorned run-on sentences, skillfully building a totalitarian world simultaneously immersive and repulsive. (Apr.)