cover image Journey by Moonlight

Journey by Moonlight

Antal Szerb, trans. from the Hungarian by Len Rix. New York Review Books, $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-59017-773-0

In this 1937 masterpiece from the late Hungarian novelist Szerb, businessman Mihaly takes his new bride Erzsi to Italy on their honeymoon, but from their first night in Venice, when Mihaly gets lost wandering the back alleys, their plans for an orderly vacation are thwarted by fate. With each chapter, mysterious characters from the past appear, strange letters are received, and locales shift from the merely exotic to the fantastical. It emerges that in Mihaly's youth, he had an intense friendship with wealthy brother and sister Tamas and Eva. The shadow of this passionate entanglement hangs over Mihaly's adult life; Italy turns out to be full of clues relating to Tamas's death, and Eva seems to literally be around every corner (at one point spying on Mihaly though holes cut in a tapestry). The romanticism crossed with middle-European emotional claustrophobia and the surreal suggests a love child of Stendhal and Kafka. The wonderfully assured shifts in tone and substance from chapter to chapter are clearly the work of a master. This is an important translation that will hopefully spur the rediscovery of a major talent. (Sept.)