Satantango

Satantango_Laszlo_KrasznahorkaiI’ve been reading László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango. It’s a book I bought because I don’t remember ever reading a book by a Hungarian novelist – dead or alive – and because I liked the cover. But I noticed in the very first pages is that the text is very dense: whole chapters of the book (about 20 pages each) are single paragraphs. The text breaks into a new paragraph in page 109 for the first time – and that’s an unconventional paragraph break because it’s mid-sentence. Coupled with long sentences, it makes quite a difficult read. According to Wikipedia, Krasznahorkai is “known for critically difficult and demanding novels;” no wonder people find his work difficult, and I am no exception.

The story tells about the tensions and antagonisms between townsfolk in a forest village, where it rains all the time. Irimias, who once disappeared from the village, presumed dead, returns to upset balances. He is devilishly cunning and irresistible – the title Satantango means “the dance of the devil.”

I read an online review which contextualizes the text; it makes much more sense after I learnt that the book was written four years before the fall of communism.

I couldn’t stop thinking that this must have been quite challenging to translate. George Szirtes has done an incredible job translating these seemingly endless sentences, which convey the slow passage of time in the estate. I’ve also spotted these phrases that struck me as unusual and interesting, like “a narrow aureole of light, no bigger than a slice of bread” (81), “work his fingers to the bone” (91) and “drunk as a newt” (100); I guess we owe this colourful languge partly to the author and partly to the translator.

The book opens with an epigram by Kafka, on waiting, and a quote inside the book compares it to Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I thought it also felt like Herta Müller’s Passport.

Unfortunately, I stopped reading at page 119 because a little girl is trying to suffocate a cat in a plastic bag. She’s tried twice so far, and it’s simply agonizing for me even if she won’t succeed at the end. (Clips from the film adaptation suggest that she does succeed.)

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