Synopses & Reviews
A powerful memoir of war, politics, literature, and family life by one of Europe's leading intellectuals.
When George Konrád was a child of eleven, he, his sister, and two cousins managed to flee to Budapest from the Hungarian countryside the day before deportations swept through his home town. Ultimately, they were the only Jewish children of the town to survive the Holocaust.
A Guest in My Own Country recalls the life of one of Eastern Europe's most accomplished modern writers, beginning with his survival during the final months of the war. Konrád captures the dangers, the hopes, the betrayals and courageous acts of the period through a series of carefully chosen episodes that occasionally border on the surreal (as when a dead German soldier begins to speak, attempting to justify his actions).
The end of the war launches the young man on a remarkable career in letters and politics. Offering lively descriptions of both his private and public life in Budapest, New York, and Berlin, Konrád reflects insightfully on his role in the Hungarian Uprising, the notion of "internal emigration" the fate of many writers who, like Konrád, refused to leave the Eastern Bloc under socialism and other complexities of European identity. To read A Guest in My Own Country is to experience the recent history of East-Central Europe from the inside.
"This powerful, highly literary memoir by a world-famous author essayist and novelist Konrd was elected president of International PEN in 1990 discursively traces his life as a Hungarian child during the Holocaust, and later as a student during the Hungarian revolution of 1956. While it deals with his growth as an intellectual and writer, it is primarily a meditation on the conflicts between national and individual identity. Konrd's prose is distanced and unemotional, but always carries a potent punch: 'In the winter of 1944 45 I saw any number of dead bodies. I could picture myself among them, but the tasks of day-to-day existence obscured most of my imaginings. Danger makes you practical.' This cool, objective voice works as well for the smaller vignettes as it does when he is musing on Dr. Mengele's obsession with killing Jewish children. There are moments of almost surreal narrative here his mother and father tell Konrd (b. 1933) and his sister bedtime 'adventure stories' of how they survived the war but also moments of stately, traditional bildungsroman. His account of the 1956 revolution, in which he was an active participant, is equally laconic. This memoir stirs and provokes in unexpected ways that linger after it is read." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The fundamental problem, entrenched in the title of his fine and fascinating book, is whether or not Konrád should consider himself a guest in his own country. He poses the question even though he has done so much as a writer to enhance the reputation of Hungary....In view of renewed anti-Semitism on the political right, the question cannot yet be answered." István Deák, The New Republic
(read the entire New Republic review
About the Author
George Konrád, a former president of International PEN and the Academy of Arts in Berlin, is the author of The Case Worker and The Invisible Voice, among many other widely translated books. He lives in Budapest. Michael Henry Heim, a professor of Slavic languages and literature at the University of California at Los Angeles, has translated works by Anton Chekhov, Milan Kundera, and Bohumil Hrabal, among others.