cover image Abigail


Magda Szabó, trans. from Hungarian by Len Rix. New York Review Books, $16.95 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-1-68137-403-1

This infectious coming-of-age novel from Szabó (1917–2007), released in 1970 and translated into English for the first time, is a rollicking delight. Gina Vitay, the headstrong, spoiled lead, is reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Emma. It is 1943 in Hungary and Gina’s father, a general, sends her to the Matula Institute, a secluded, Calvinist boarding school for girls. Gina is forced to cut her hair, give away her possessions, and conceal her draconian life at school from her father. After Gina reveals to her teachers a strange, secret school tradition and ruins it, her classmates, all wonderfully rendered, ignore her. Gina resolves to escape, but then her father tells her Germany is going to win the war, and Gina can’t return home. In desperation, she turns to Abigail, a mysterious statue that grants students’ wishes. The teachers—handsome Péter Kalmár, sentimental König, good-hearted Susanna—are a strong supporting troupe. Readers will thrill as Gina navigates tangled situations—especially when kidnappers hoping to manipulate Gina’s father into surrendering arrive at the Matula Institute’s door. Szabó pairs the psychological insights reader will recognize from her novel The Door with action more akin to Harry Potter. Gina is one of Szabó‘s finest creations, and this work should continue to enhance her reputation in the U.S. [em](Jan.) [/em]