Monday, 17 August 2015

A deep understanding

Kosztolányi Dezső 

Every society is obsessed with itself. The past is interpreted from the narrow perspective of today's context, and often scorned under the false banner of “progress”.

That continuous progress, in every parcel of human society, is a false myth that some find useful, is apparent to even the most occasional dilettante of History.

All too often we forget that past societies were as complex as ours, and that human beings always struggle for the same old reasons: justice, independence, power, ambition and love.

If anything, considers Baron von Trotta, his latest acquaintances seemed more unidimensional and psychologically simpler than the peasants he met at the family estate in his youth. 

There is something in mass societies that grinds human souls, making then generally poorer, despite all those university titles and office jobs. The return in adults of the old hobby of adding colour to drawings could be a manifestation of this. It used to be just a child’s pastime.

That is why, when the Baron finished another book of Kosztolányi Dezső this weekend, he was delighted to see such a deep understanding of human beings in all their pitiful and tragic complexity.

Echoing Simenon’s words “comprendre et ne pas juger”, Kosztolányi besides being an excellent narrator, offers an uncompromising view of human motives; does not idealize but does not sentence or preach either.

And his characters are as alive today as they were back in the Hungary before the Second World War, because they are, quite simply, us. And closer to us than many of the mortgaged shadows we can meet daily. 

His books are still worth reading because they can make us see our own circumstance with different eyes and laugh.

Like after listening to a concert conducted by Carlos Kleiber, the Baron always feel he can cope with life better after finishing one of Kosztolányi’s  books. The Hungarian writer has got that genius-like touch of releasing grace and joy even in sorrow.

If you can pack in your suitcase this summer his utterly delightful Esti Kornél (1933), or the piercing Aranysárkány (1925, Le cerf-volant d'or, no English translation that we know of), you will not be disappointed.

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