Attila Bartis

translated from the Hungarian by Imre Goldstein
Archipelago Books 2008
A book review by Danny Yee © 2010
Andor, the narrator of Tranquility, is trapped in a horrific relationship with his mother, who hasn't left the apartment they share for fifteen years. They are over-dependent on each other and maintain a complex mesh of secrets and pretenses.

Tranquility begins with Andor's mother's funeral, but then jumps backwards and forwards through his earlier life. He remains wrapped up in his own concerns as progressive revelations reveal more and more shocking aspects of his family's history.

Almost the entire novel revolves around Andor's relationships with women. His sister Judit is a violinist whose skill has allowed her to defect, to escape their mother as much as communism. Ezster, who he meets when she is about to throw herself off a bridge, has some dark secrets of her own but offers him the hope of a different life. And, when he begins to publish, his editor Eva turns out to have her own links to his family's past. Throw in a prostitute who collects crippled birds and a bar waitress, and there's scope for a messy — and explicitly described — sex life. The only male character Andor meaningfully interacts with is a rural priest.

The setting is lightly sketched: the seedy underside of Budapest, the railway system, the communist bureaucracy, and so forth. The women in Andor's life have had their lives changed by politics, but politics remains peripheral, perhaps because of his own apathy.

The horrors in Tranquility verge on farce, but its troubled characters are realistically and convincingly depicted. It is not the cheeriest of works, but it is told with a jaunty nonchalance that prevents it being nearly as gloomy as this bare description would suggest.

June 2010

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%T Tranquility
%A Bartis, Attila
%M Hungarian
%F Goldstein, Imre
%I Archipelago Books
%D 2008 [2001]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9780980033007
%P 291pp