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An Evening With László Krasznahorkai

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New Directions Publishing and City Lights came together to celebrate the hotly anticipated release of the English translation of renowned Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai‘s Satantango at City Lights Bookstore, June 28, 2012.

 

László Krasznahorkai is a contemporary Hungarian author whose works have been translated into many languages. He was born in Gyula, Hungary, in 1954. He worked for some years as an editor until 1984, when he became a freelance writer. He now lives in reclusiveness in the hills of Szentlászló. He has written five novels and won numerous prizes. In 1993, he won the Best Book of the Year Award in Germany for The Melancholy of Resistance. His novels include Animalinside, Satantango, and War And War.

 

Much like the seven-and-a-half-hour Béla Tarr film it spawned, Satantango requires patience. Underlying this morass of atrophying humanity is a structure of subtle movements, the structure of the tango, a structure only apparent at a far remove. It is a structure I only recognized somewhere in the seventh hour of the film and which, while immersed in the novel, seems ever elusive, although there are indications. Even if you don’t have the patience for the gran mal, there are moments of Handkean brilliance in the minutiae. —Recommended by Jeff, City Lights Books

At long last, twenty-five years after the Hungarian genius László Krasznahorkai burst onto the scene with his first novel, Satantango dances into English in a beautiful translation by George Szirtes.
Already famous as the inspiration for the filmmaker Béla Tarr’s six-hour masterpiece, Satantango is proof, as the spellbinding, bleak, and hauntingly beautiful book has it, that “the devil has all the good times.”

The story of Satantango, spread over a couple of days of endless rain, focuses on the dozen remaining inhabitants of an unnamed isolated hamlet: failures stuck in the middle of nowhere. Schemes, crimes, infidelities, hopes of escape, and above all trust and its constant betrayal are Krasznahorkai’s meat. “At the center of Satantango,” George Szirtes has said, “is the eponymous drunken dance, referred to here sometimes as a tango and sometimes as a csardas. It takes place at the local inn where everyone is drunk. . . . Their world is rough and ready, lost somewhere between the comic and tragic, in one small insignificant corner of the cosmos. Theirs is the dance of death.”

“You know,” Mrs. Schmidt, a pivotal character, tipsily confides, “dance is my one weakness.”

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New Directions was founded in 1936, when James Laughlin (1914 – 1997), then a twenty-two-year-old Harvard sophomore, issued the first of the New Directions anthologies. “I asked Ezra Pound for ‘career advice,’” James Laughlin recalled. “He had been seeing my poems for months and had ruled them hopeless. He urged me to finish Harvard and then do ‘something’ useful.”

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