cover image Iza’s Ballad

Iza’s Ballad

Magda Szabó, trans. from the Hungarian by George Szirtes. New York Review Books, $16.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-68137-034-7

In this contemplative family narrative, Szabó (The Door) introduces us to Ettie, and her daughter, Iza, shortly after Ettie’s husband, Vince, dies. Set in Hungary in 1960, the novel follows housewife Ettie in the days and weeks after Vince’s death. Iza, a successful doctor, tries to comfort her mother by arranging everything, but her efforts to tidy up her father’s estate only further isolate Ettie. Iza sells the rural family home and brings her mother to live with her in the big city of Pest. There, with live-in help, Ettie has no chores to complete and no one to talk to. “Everything required for comfort was present and correct but she still felt as though she had been robbed.” The story jumps around in time as Ettie nostalgically recalls her many years with Vince. Ettie is also fond of Antal, Iza’s ex-husband, who purchases their old home in the village, and she worries that Iza will never find a suitable replacement. Antal, however, falls in love with Lidia, the young nurse who cared for Vince in his final days. A subdued and melancholy meditation on grief and mourning, Szabó’s novel is the work of a sophisticated storyteller who confronts how memories are constructed. (Oct.)