Be Faithful Unto Death

Zsigmond Móricz

translated from the Hungarian by Stephen Vizinczey
Central European University Press 1995 [1921]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2007
A scholarship student at a boarding school in Debrecen, eleven year old Mihaly Nyilas (Misi) suffers from the common insecurities and exuberances of childhood. He is prone to sudden panics and elations, wild swings in his feelings for his friends, and fantasies of disaster or success.

Most of Misi's problems are actually rather minor: having his paint stolen by a bully, losing his hat, getting caught not paying attention by teachers, or spending his laundry money buying books. A star pupil, he is given jobs reading the newspaper to a blind man and tutoring a poorly performing fellow student. This brings him into contact with a broader range of people, including his first adolescent encounters with girls. But a real crisis comes when he is accused of stealing a lottery ticket.

Superficially Be Faithful Unto Death is a "school novel", with a simple plot made up of short episodes, but there is more to it than that. Misi's visits to three households, and his memories of village life, illustrate the ways social status and wealth constrain the opportunities of those drawn to learning.

Misi's growth and realisation of his vocation as a writer are linked through his education to Hungarian history, to its national heroes and dramatic incidents. A non-Hungarian reader eighty years later obviously reads this rather differently to Móricz's original audience in the 1920s, but it is never unpleasant or jarring. (This translation includes notes for those unfamiliar with the relevant history.)

Above all, however, the largely autobiographical Be Faithful Unto Death is an intimate and compelling personal portrait. Misi is a sensitive and imaginative child — "remembering snippets of conversation had the same effect on him as if he were listening to people actually talking to him" — and a poet and writer in the making.

Note: Be Faithful Unto Death was first published in 1921 as Légy jó mindhalálig.

March 2007

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%T Be Faithful Unto Death
%A Móricz, Zsigmond
%M Hungarian
%F Vizinczey, Stephen
%I Central European University Press
%D 1995 [1921]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1858660602
%P 312pp