The Franz Kafka Prize

2003 - Péter Nádas

Born: 14 October 1942, Budapest, Hungary

Author's quote: "By fantasizing one builds a more predictable world, and then one has no time to notice what is really happening, because of the din made by one's expectations crashing down."

Field: Fiction

Prize share: 1/1

Books Written By Peter Nádas

About Peter Nádas

Peter Nádas was born in Budapest as the son of László Nádas and Klára Tauber. After the takeover of the Hungarian Nazis, the Arrow Cross Party on 15 October 1944, Klára Tauber escaped with her son to Bačka and Novi Sad, but returned to the capital directly before the Siege of Budapest. Péter Nádas survived the siege together with his mother in the flat of his uncle, the journalist Pál Aranyossi.

Even though his parents were illegal Communists during World War II and involved with the Communist administration later on, as well, they had both their sons—Péter and Pál—baptized in the Reformed (Calvinist) Church of Pozsonyi Street. His mother died of an illness when he was 13. In 1958, his father—head of department in one of the ministries, slandered with accusations of embezzlement, then exonerated by the court of all charges—committed suicide; Péter Nádas became an orphan at 16. Magda Aranyossi became the guardian of the two children.

Between 1961 and 1963 Péter Nádas studied journalism and photography. He worked as a journalist at a Budapest magazine (Pest Megyei Hírlap) from 1965 to 1969. He also worked as a playwright and a photographer. Since 1969 he has been a freelancer.

In 1990 he married Magda Salamon (with whom he had been living since 1962). In 1984 they moved to a small village in western Hungary, Gombosszeg, where they have resided ever since, though he also has a residence in the Castle District of Buda.

In 1993, he was elected member of the Széchenyi Academy of Literature and Arts.

Since the early 1970s, he has frequently spent time in Berlin, Germany, attending lectures at Humboldt University or reading in the Staatsbibliothek. He has been a fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Institute for Advanced Study. In 2006, he was elected a member of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin. He enjoys a high reputation in Germany.

After publishing volumes of short stories, he published his first novel The End of a Family Story in 1977. He published his second novel, A Book of Memories in 1986. It took Nádas twelve years to write this book.The epigraph of this novel is from the Gospel according to John: "But he spake of the temple of his body" (John, 2.21). In this novel, Nádas describes the world as a system of relations linking human bodies to each other. This book earned Nádas comparisons to Proust.

He published his latest novel, the three-volume Parallel Stories (I: The Mute Realm, II: In the Very Depth of the Night, III: The Breath of Freedom) in 2005. This novel is a multitude of independent stories that melt into one single narrative. It took Nádas eighteen years to complete this book. The novel has been described as "a virtuoso combination of nineteenth-century high realism with the experimentalism of the nouveau roman", while "the real narrative is that of bodies' actions on one another, their attraction and desires, their mutual memories" (Gábor Csordás). The plot is constructed around the histories of two families: one—the Lippay-Lehrs, who are Hungarian, the other—the Döhrings, who are German. These two main threads link irregularly up to one another via specific events or figures.

Nádas' other novels include Lovely Tale of Photography, Yearbook, On Heavenly and Earthly Love, and A Dialogue with Richard Swartz. Death is a recurrent theme in Nádas' work, particularly in Own Death, based on his experience of clinical death. His writing has been described as intellectual, detailed, strong, innovative, and demanding. He is the winner of the Würth-Preis für Europäische Literatur in 2014.[2] A volume of interviews with Péter Nádas, by Zsófia Mihancsik (Nincs mennyezet, nincs födém) was published in 2006.


A Book of Memories: A Novel - Peter Nádas

By Dale Boyer

I decided to review this work in an attempt to counter some of the other tepid responses which, frankly, almost disssuaded me from starting the novel at all. But memories of a rave from Susan Sontag in The New Yorker a number of years ago caused me to persist, and I'm glad I did. This is a major novel -- a long, languid, occasionally frustrating one, granted, but one that nevertheless rewards a persistent reader. It helps to know that there are THREE "I" narrators; it also helps to know a little about Hungary's history, and to have some familiarity with the history of the cold war. While comparisons to Proust and Musil are probably inevitable, they are also a bit misleading, particularly in relation to Musil. What Nadas shares with Proust is his belief in the powers of perception and consciousness, as well as his long, delicate, slowly-unfolding lines. Essentially, this is a novel about the difficulties of finding love, set against the backdrop of 20th-century Hungary's inhospitable history. In particular, it is an audacious and sensitive exploration of sexuality and love, and a truly great novel. It is a must for lovers of great literature, and for those looking for a really masterful dissection of a gay sensibility. I am certain I will never forget it, and feel the way I always do in the presence of true art: enormously grateful to the author for having created it.


A Book of Memories: A Novel

By D. Moulton

I have a deep personal connection with this book. It was first published in Hungarian the year of my birth (also the year of Jean Genet's death). The last time I read it I wept continuously; I had just fallen in love, and as far as I'm concerned no one in the history of the novel has ever been better at representing the vicissitude of love, particularly love of the queer variety. Nadas is clearly working in the tradition of James, Musil, Mann, and Proust, but in certain respects he actually surpasses these masters. None ever knew the body as intimately, as poetically as he. This book represents the redemption of lust and adolescent longing as a serious subject for literature. He's able to write about sex without seeming glib, self-indulgent, sensationalistic, or euphemistic; practically all other writers, even the great ones, fall into one of these traps. Like Proust or Dante Nadas creates his own cosmogony - uniquely, his is a universe of human bodies... Aside from the sex, Memories is a book of astonishing political and moral intelligence. Nadas is the least didactic of writers, but even so he is able to infinitely deepen and enrich the reader's understanding of history. The account of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution is simply breathtaking; I would call it a brilliant combination of Marx and Freud (more brilliant, say, than anything to come out of the Frankfurt school), but that would make Nadas sound like a pedantic novelist, when in fact he's anything but... I'm tempted to go on and on. There are so many beautiful descriptions, so many heartrending sequences. (The long chapter "Grass Grew Over the Scorched Spot" could stand alongside Musil's "Young Torless" as one of the great novellas of budding sexuality and intellect in the male adolescent.) I cannot believe this book is not more famous than it is. In my exceedingly humble opinion Nadas is the greatest living novelist in the world today; to find anyone else as great you have to go back to the first half, or even the first third, of the twentieth century.