cover image Katalin Street

Katalin Street

Magda Szabó, trans. from the Hungarian by Len Rix. New York Review Books, $14.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-68137-152-8

The latest from Szabó (The Door) is a gorgeous elegy for the joy and the life once shared among three neighboring families—the Elekes, the Temes, and the Helds—in prewar Budapest, following the residents through the German invasion in 1944, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and the miserable quiet of the 1960s. At the heart of the story is Iren, the Elekes’ older daughter, who in 1944 is a beautiful and hardworking school teacher poised to begin the happy life she feels entitled to lead. But on the day that she and Balint, son of the Temes family next door, announce their engagement, the Helds—who are Jewish—are taken away. Their teenager daughter, Henriette, has remained with Iren’s and Balint’s families for protection and yet, before the night is over, her presence will be discovered, with catastrophic consequences that will haunt everyone for the rest of their lives. Readers will be impressed by the brilliant texture and forthrightness of Szabó’s prose, along with the particular urgency she infuses into the humiliations and irrational longings that comprise her characters’ lives, even or especially during the shock of war. All the while, Iren maintains her work ethic, as if by grading papers she can hold fast to some larger sense of order, even though the chaos of the world has murdered her neighbors, ruined her future, and destroyed her country. This is a brilliant and unforgettable novel. (Sept.)