cover image The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed

Szilard Borbely, trans. from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet. Harper Perennial, $15.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-236408-1

Hungarian essayist and poet Borbely’s first novel captures the pain of poverty and prejudice in post-World War II Hungary through the eyes of a young boy. The unnamed narrator is the son of a man with Jewish heritage and a woman with familial ties to the Kulaks, fascist sympathizers who once controlled Hungary before being overthrown by communists. Growing up in a small village in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he and his family are alienated by their fellow villagers and forced to live in near squalor. Though his life is defined by hunger and want, the boy uses his energy to learn about his heritage and Hungary’s violent history, including two wars and forced relocation. The boy’s voice is striking for the measured way in which he recounts violence, the material desires he and his sister hope to have filled, and the simple, bleak facts of his family’s existence. Through brief vignettes and stories told to him, the boy explains his world and the people who inhabit it, often weaving together mundane daily routines with illuminating details that highlight his family’s profound suffering. As the middle child of parents concerned with more pressing worries than his emotional needs , the cruelty of the boy’s life is at times overwhelming and deeply unsettling. This immensely powerful portrait of poverty is at once a window into an often obscured history, and a timeless testament to the struggle of those in need. (Nov.)