Ant Heap

Margitt Kaffka, Author, Charlotte Franklin, Translator Marion Boyars Publishers $16.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-7145-2989-9
This final novel by turn-of-the-century Hungarian writer Kaffka (1880-1918) offers a knowing portrait of the closed yet teeming society of a teaching convent, drawn from her own years as a Catholic schoolgirl and her later experience as a teacher. The convent's groups and individuals are neatly observed here in all their varied interactions and characters, their diverse traits preserved in Franklin's lucid but rather anglicized translation. Even the resident eccentrics--the superannuated German Sister Kunigunda and the Baconian science teacher Father Szelenyi--have their roles in both the schoolgirls' sentimental vagaries and the struggle for a new Reverend Mother that emphasizes the gulf between the older, conservative German nuns and the younger, progressive Hungarians. The tensions and fragilities of this sealed world are stirred up by the most mundane events--the temptation of a ripe pear in the garden or, most comically, the midnight intrusion of a drunken prankster. If Kaffka is critical of the spiritual strictures placed upon convent inhabitants and about the narrowed opportunities of these girls and women, she nonetheless captures the variety of their inner lives. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/1995
Release date: 04/01/1995
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