The Hungarian writer Péter Esterházy has passed away.
Svante Weyler remembers a novel artist who could body feint as a footballer.
We were sitting in a cafe in Budapest, Péter Esterházy , me and my wife, a few years in the 2000s.
We would just publish his magnum opus in Swedish, “Harmonia Caelestis,” the seven hundred-page story of the noble Esterházy Péter whose head would have been if not the history and the Hungarian communists intervened. Now he had to settle for being all grevarnas and grevinnornas first columnist, a role that suited him infinitely better, and no one who read the book could have remained indifferent to the final portrayal of the father, he really could be the head, which then deklasserades and sent into the fields to pick melons with their former subjects of one of the Counts estates.
It was a sharp, almost painfully sharp portrait of a man who lost everything – estates, title, self-esteem – except his honor.
Now the cafe in Budapest Péter told that he had lost also. Prior to the publication of “Harmonia caelestis” in Hungary, Peter had been called up at the Ministry of Interior and which left alone in a large meeting room with a thick folder as Secretary of State with a mild understatement thought might interest the famous writer. Péter opened the folder and instantly recognized her father’s handwriting on the first angivarrapporten.
He told at first only for his brother, his wife and his publisher – and later then also me. Knowing his father’s betrayal put almost his whole book in question. He did now as he has done ever since he once left mathematics and became a writer, he went home to write. And just a year later, the result, a new thick book, this time with the simple title of “corrected edition” in which he talks about the unimaginable betrayal and his own desperate reaction to it.
These two books will remain as two Hungarian sea stacks when the tide went out of the European 1900s literature and washed away everything that was noticed by the time without explaining it. The books are the definitive monument of European cultural and vankultur at least since the Enlightenment has characterized all of us on this continent, and whose sediments are stirred up over the decades, particularly in the Esterházy own Hungary.
the first time I met him was in 1993. I was about to become his Swedish publisher and found that I could get health while I was in Budapest. Well, a cup of tea, perhaps, there was some dutiful response. But I was well prepared and quickly brought the conversation into a common favorite subject, football, and soon the tea is replaced with a bottle of wine.
Of all that Péter Esterházy had to be proud of, it was he and where mattered nothing but books and moral stance. He told me that he was once in his youth had been standing on the same football field as Ferenc Puskas (and the one that needs the details to understand the greatness of this may look myself, I’m not going to help with some ridiculous comparisons with today’s stars). Once in Stockholm, many years later, when we just published his wishful biography of contemporary football Novel No art, then would the legendary sports commentator Bo Hansson , provide the key to Péters novels by describing how Puskas behaved. Simple: he drove the body feints. Lean right to go to the left, the hill will be the first despair, then filled with the realization that it is disgraceful to be humiliated by a master.
How is it to read Péter Esterházy: any once you think you know where he is going in a novel, an essay, or only in a single sentence – he goes the other way. Some literary soul engineers have wanted to call it postmodernism, I can just call it the completely adequate reaction to growing up and life in an imported and eventually through the route Hungarian communism. Just as adequate as the Dadaists of the First World War massacres.
So foolish to try to summarize Péter Esterházy works in a lot of anecdotes? No not at all. All attempts of grave seriousness, he would have laughed, or at least leveled with his ironic smile, and there is not no other way to try to fill the unknowable void that he is going after him, in the midst of European literature, without becoming pathetic.
the last time we met was a few months ago, when he gave a speech at the Imre Kertesz stretcher. We all knew that he was dying, that next time it was no where in the room that would be directed to his stretcher and being compelled to speak of his memory. And we also knew that no one could do it nearly as well as he would have done it. Better then with anecdotes. And the work.