George Konrád

translated from the Hungarian by Ivan Sanders
Harcourt 2000
A book review by Danny Yee © 2015
The aging Janos Dragoman, writer, lecturer and high-profile public figure, returns to his home town of Kandor a few years after the fall of communism. (Kandor seems to be re-imagining of Budapest as a much smaller town: one "will find Kandor only on special maps, and the odd thing about these maps is that they are available only in Kandor".)

Dragoman reengages with old friends and rivals, among them Antal Tombor, flashy film-maker turned mayor, Kuno Aba, rector of the university and conservative ideologue, and their wives. He also discovers that he has a natural daughter from an old liaison, and a grandson, and settles down to enjoy an unaccustomed family life. Around him swirl the currents of post-communist politics — the police chief is unchanged, and once ran surveillance on the new mayor — complicated when a visitor to his hotel room commits suicide.

The larger part of Stonedial, however, is set in the past, as Dragoman runs through his memories, of a Jewish childhood during the Second World War, of lovers and liaisons, but above all of the tumultuous events of 1956.

"Suddenly he was part of a procession. He stepped off the curb and found himself among like-minded young men and women whose faces seemed prematurely long. Some walked arm in arm, waiting at each corner for state security men to appear and break up the marching columns. People leaned out of windows with curious, terrified, encouraging faces. The news vendors stepped out of their kiosks — the real news was there on the pavement. All the cafés were open."

And then the past collides with the present at a party thrown by the mayor, when Aba and Dragoman dispute the events surrounding the killing of six students in 1956. (As well as shifting between past and present, Stonedial also shifts between first-person and third-person perspectives.)

As a story Stonedial is a little slow in places, and some of the plotting in the framing story seems contrived, most notably a strand that involves Dragoman having an informal bodyguard provided by a mysterious international organisation. On the other hand, the accounts of events in and around 1956 have a real intensity to them, as do those of Dragoman's childhood and university life, and of the complexities and choices and compromises of life under communism. (Much of this is clearly autobiographical.) The present narrative may be less convincing, but it offers an engaged, if cynical, perspective on the early years of post-communist Hungary.

Note: Stonedial was originally published as Kőóra in 1998.

March 2015

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%T Stonedial
%A Konrád, George
%M Hungarian
%F Sanders, Ivan
%I Harcourt
%D 2000 [1998]
%O hardcover
%G ISBN 0151006199
%P 290pp