The Circumcision

György Dalos

translated from the Hungarian by Judish Sollosy
Brandl and Schlesinger 2001 [1990]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2003
Robi Singer is a half-orphan — his father died soon after the war — who spends his weekdays in a Jewish orphanage in Budapest and his weekends in a small apartment with his grandmother and mother. His mother is agoraphobic and hypochondriac, but his grandmother is a tough old lady who holds down an unskilled job and knows how to work the system; they manage to cling to a middle-class lifestyle, even if they can't afford a proper winter coat for Robi.

A teacher at the orphanage inspires him with stories about the heroes of Jewish history, but on Sundays his mother takes him to prayer meetings of Jews for Christ — and his grandmother is a communist. So when the time comes for Robi's bar mitzvah, it's not clear that his belated circumcision really will be "just a formality"...

The tribulations of Robi and his family, and their relationships with others, offer a fascinating view of life in Hungary under Rákosi and Stalin. But The Circumcision (Körümetélés) is a simple, unpretentious story of a teenager growing up, facing the common confusions of sex and love and family as well as those peculiar to his religious background. Apart from occasional Yiddish terms (explained in a glossary), the background never intrudes: Dalos delivers short, punchy episodes in lucid prose, with a quiet but effective humour.

November 2003

Related reviews:
- books about Eastern Europe + Eastern European history
- more Hungarian literature
- books about Judaism + Jewish history
- books published by Brandl and Schlesinger
%T The Circumcision
%A Dalos, György
%M Hungarian
%F Sollosy, Judish
%I Brandl and Schlesinger
%D 2001 [1990]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1876040254
%P 157pp