lunes, 8 de diciembre de 2014

Journey by Moonlight

Journey by Moonlight [Utas és holdvilág] (NYRB Classics, 2014)
por Antal Szerb [traducción del húngaro por Len Rix]
Hungría, 1937

Journey by Moonlight [publicada en español como El viajero bajo el resplandor de la luna; título original: Utas és holdvilág], en aparencia dedicada a un matrimonio fracasado pero en realidad una meditación de carácter escurridizo sobre la pasión y el conformismo, es una novela rara y algo onírica, divertida y agridulce a la vez, que para mí era una gran introducción al mundo narrativo de Antal Szerb.  En líneas generales, el argumento tiene que ver con lo que sucede a una pareja de recién casados cuando Mihály, un tipo excéntrico y trastornado, decide de abandonar a su flamante esposa Erszi durante su luna de miel en Italia.  Aunque el comportamiento inexplicable de Mihály es un centro de atención en la obra como es natural, la imprevisibilidad de las vueltas cuentísticas de Szerb y el vaivén de tonalidad entre el realismo y la irrealidad en el relato son tales que El viajero bajo el resplandor de la luna se puede leer como un cuento de hadas cargado de nostalgia o una parodia de la novela de aventuras o algo por el estilo.  ¡Embriaguez narrativa!  A lo largo de la novela, por ejemplo, Szerb sorprende con la viveza de sus descripciones ("The landscape, so magical when viewed from the train between Bologna and Florence, was now damp and hostile, like the face of a weeping woman with the make-up peeling off" ["El paisaje, tan mágico cuando visto desde el tren entre Bolonia y Florencia, ahora era húmedo y nada amistoso, como la cara de una llorona con el maquillaje pelado"]) (64), los personajes se destacan por o la aspereza o la locura de sus comentarios ("For some reason I asked the old man who Mozart was.  'Der war ein Scheunepurzler,' he said, which means, more or less, someone who does somersaults in a barn to amuse the yokels" ["Por alguna razón, le preguntó al viejo quién fue Mozart.  'Der war ein Scheunepurzler', él dijo, que significa, más o menos, alguien que da saltos mortales en un granero para entretener a los palurdos"]) (188), y el viaje sentimental por Italia de Mihály está narrado con un sentido de humor mordaz  --como en la escena donde el protagonista, un burgués agotado por los recuerdos de un amigo muerto y una mujer inasequible, presencia el bautismo de un bambino italiano en la compañía de algunos "Italian proles" ["proletarios italianos"] y percibe algo apocalíptico en la figura "odiosa" de madre y niño que se parece a "some kind of satanic parody of the Madonna, some malicious uglification of European man's greatest symbol" ["algún tipo de parodia satánica de la Virgen, un afeamiento malévolo del mayor símbolo de la humanidad europea"] (282).  Al mismo tiempo, no es difícil divisar el afecto que el novelista tiene por algunos de sus personajes principales con todas sus flaquezas o el hecho de que, en una novela que juega con las relaciones entre el tiempo y el pasado personal de Mihály y la antigüedad, una inscripción etrusca, citada dos veces en las páginas 193 y 277, hace un carpe diem o un memento mori digno para todas las edades: Foied vinom papafo, cra carefo ["Hoy beberé vino, mañana no tendré nada"].  Un encanto.

Antal Szerb (1901-1945)

10 comentarios:

  1. Google translate has almost certainly messed with your eloquent prose, Richard, but I'm so glad you enjoyed this novel. I like how you've described it as a meditation, a story with a somewhat dreamy, bittersweet feel. I wondered if Mihaly's existential crisis was a reflection of the political climate at the time: a yearning to return to an earlier period, to reconnect with the past.

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    1. Thanks, that's a great question, Jacqui. While it's almost impossible not to consider Journey by Moonlight in the light of the political climate at the time in particular given what little I know of Szerb's biography--i.e. a) he made a trip to Italy just before writing this book because he didn't know how much longer that country would continue to exist in the way he had known it, and b) he later was sent to and died in a concentration camp on account of his heritage--the curious thing is that Szerb wrote this novel in such a way that Mihály's crisis is decidedly more personal than political in terms of the trajectory of the plot. In any event, I hope to read more by the author in the future. He had a deft feel for contradictory registers of tone, and the writing was often as vivid as that painting on the cover of the NYRB edition of the book pictured in the post. Cheers!

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  2. I have started and abandoned this novel three times, using a different translation (I should have been forewarned away by its pedestrian title The Traveler rather than the unforgettable Journey by Moonlight). But as the NYRB edition was just given to me and as your enthusiasm is, as always, contagious, I plan to try it again.

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    1. This was a super easy book for me to get geeked up about, Scott, and I suspect you'll feel the same after giving Len Rix's NYRB translation a try. Found the storytelling vibrant and kaleidoscopic in tone if that makes any sense at all. Thanks, by the way, for your own slightly similar sounding but still off-topic enthusiasm: I used your old Ill Met by Moonlight post to break a tie between two or three book gift ideas I had in mind for my dad for Christmas this year. Appreciate the help!

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    2. Great - glad to be of help, Richard!

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  3. Another one for the pile. I've bought some Hungarian books recently but can't even find them to see if any were by Szerb. The books are taking over the asylum...

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    1. I'd lined up a handful of Hungarian novels that I wanted to get to this year, Séamus, but it looks like Szerb's might be the only one I'm going to get to other than maybe Kosztolanyi's Skylark. In any event, this'd be a fine add to your pile if you don't end up finding it in the pile before then!

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  4. A lovely book, slightly marred by a whiff of racial stereotyping concerning the 'Turk', but delightful nonetheless. I especially enjoyed the observation about what English people mean when they use the word 'meritorious'.

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    1. There was a fair amount of anti-Italian or at least anti-"lower class Italian" comments mixed in with some of the pro-Italian sentiments as well, Captain Ned, but I don't remember the anti-Turk stuff well enough to recall whether the stereotyping was character-driven or maybe novelist-driven. That being said, I agree that this was a lovely book all in all and things like that bit about English meritoriousness were typical of the sort of off the wall surprises Szerb amused me with again and again. Thanks for visiting the blog, by the way!

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  5. Actually, my memory of the book isn't all that great; for one thing, I think it was a Persian, rather than a Turk, who featured. As for whether the stereotyping was character- or novelist-driven, my impression (so far as I remember) was that it was a bit of both. It wasn't necessarily anti-Persian or xenophobic, it just didn't seem to get beyond an 'exotic' representation.

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