The End of A Family Story

Peter Nadas

translated from the Hungarian by Imre Goldstein
Vintage 2000 [1977]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2004
With his mother dead and his father imprisoned for crimes against the state, Simon is brought up by his grandparents and, when they die, taken to an orphanage for the children of traitors. In The End of A Family Story he describes his childhood — or, rather, pours out an almost holographic representation of it, a dense web of memories without much chronological structure. Only towards the end does narrative dominate, perhaps reflecting the order imposed on the orphanage.

Many of Simon's memories are of stories told to him by his grandfather. Though a soldier in the First World War and a survivor of a labour camp in the Second, his grandfather's stories range further back in time. He has lost his Jewish faith and argues about religion with his brother, but he is proud of his family traditions and tells the stories told to him by his grandfather, of their ancestors all the way back to the time of Jesus.

The End of a Family Story is an original and haunting work, in which Peter Nadas captures the naivety of childhood and the confusions and uncertainties of memory. This is reflected in the layout, with no paragraph breaks and fairly arbitrary chapter divisions, but the result is never difficult to read — it is most definitely a case of "art hiding art". The End of a Family Story also offers a stark perspective on Hungary under Stalinist repression.

September 2004

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%T The End of A Family Story
%A Nadas, Peter
%M Hungarian
%F Goldstein, Imre
%I Vintage
%D 2000 [1977]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0099288257
%P 245pp