László Krasznahorkai, the Hungarian master of the gorgeously long flowing sentence and seemingly endless paragraph, is the first author ever to win the Best Translated Book Award multiple times and he’s done so back-to-back with two equally powerful, but very different books. Unlike his previous efforts, 2014 winner Seiobo There Below (his six novel overall) doesn’t find its storytelling firmly rooted in the happenings of a small Hungarian town, instead it ambitiously hops around the globe and through time in a quest to uncover beauty in all of its various artistic incarnations.
While there’s been much talk about Seiobo There Below and 2013 prize winner Satantago, thankfully these aren’t the only two Krasznahorkai works to be published in English translation. For those that are looking to get their hands on more, we briefly summarize each of the available options below.
1. Satantango (translated by George Szirtes; New Directions)
Krasznahorkai’s debut novel (1985), winner of the 2013 Best Translated Book Award. In a small unnamed village in Hungary, a handful of people are waiting to be rescued from the trappings of their crumbling surroundings. There’s the doctor, a drunkard who keeps tabs on his neighbors by keeping a separate notebook for each in which he feverishly jots down the minutia of their everyday lives along with his own color commentary. There are the local prostitutes who sell themselves cheaply at the abandoned mill. Meet the trio comprised of the disabled man Futaki, Mr. Schmidt, and Keleman, all of whom scheme to rip each other off when they aren’t busy trying to find new ways to coerce Mrs. Schmidt into the sack that is. Oh, and let’s not forget the young mentally disabled girl and her cruel older brother. Yes my friends, everything is rotten in this undisclosed location. There’s never a sense of hope. No one is likable. It’s always fucking raining. Things never go right for anyone. Not even the poor neighborhood cat can catch a break. An absolutely brilliant book. If you’re wondering where to begin your Krasznahorkai adventure, we recommend that you make it here.
2. The Melancholy of Resistance (translated by George Szirtes; New Directions)
Krasznahorkai’s second proper novel (1989). All hell breaks loose in a tiny Hungarian town when a strange circus arrives during the height of winter. This isn’t just any old ordinary traveling show however, as it promises its patrons a glimpse at the world’s largest stuffed whale…and pretty much nothing else to speak of. As a result rumors start spreading about the true intentions of these bizarre visitors. Why are they here? What do they want? Once again Krasznahorkai introduces readers to a stellar cast of strange characters including the evil woman who dreams of taking over the town, her pushover husband, and the spacey hero Valuska. Is everything eventually destined to devolve into chaos? Oh yes, yes it is.
3. War and War (translated by George Szirtes; New Directions)
Krasznahorkai’s fourth proper novel (1999). Gyorgy Korim is a clerk, who in a tiny Hungarian town’s (sensing a running theme here?) archive, has unearthed a priceless manuscript detailing the exploits of a band of brothers fighting to return home from a horrible war. Korim, for the record is quite mad in the head and desperately wants to kill himself. Before attempting to do so however, he flees to New York, determined to type every word of the stolen manuscript into a computer and publish it on the internet for all eternity. War? Peace? History? Madness? Language? Chaos? Suicide? Krasznahorkai intelligently and thought-provokingly tackles all of these subjects and more with his by now firmly established trademark style and wit.
4. The Bill: For Palma Vecchio, at Venice (translated by George Szirtes; Sylph Editions)
The Bill features one glorious, eleven-page spanning sentence about the Venetian painter Palma Vecchio. Of the course the book itself spans 32 pages, and since it’s a very beautiful Sylph Edition, it includes twelve stunning color plates that serve to enhance Krasznahorkai’s complex, clever use of language.
5. Animalinside (translated by Ottilie Mulzet; Sylph Editions)
German painter Max Neumann offers up fourteen strange renditions of animal-like creatures and Krasznahorkai responds with 14 short pieces that speak directly from the mind of each. This 40 page Sylph Edition includes a preface by four time Man Booker nominee Colm Tóibín (The Testament of Mary).