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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, February 24, 2017

A complex novel that's easy to read and follow thanks to Szabo's clear style and narrative control

Magda Szabo's 1963 novel, Iza's Ballad, is a sorrowful narrative told with great beauty and clarity - the story of a strained, difficult mother-daughter relationship, not one of abuse or mistreatment or neglect - rather, a narrative about a daughter who is trying to be grateful, helping, and loving to her recently widowed mother but who, as it turns out, is overbearingly solicitous - she uproots her mother from the village home that had been her whole life, resettles her in a spare room in her Budapest apartment, and the mother feels increasingly useless and depressed, even alienated from her daughter. By the end of the 2nd section, we see that the mother's entire life consists of riding the tram to the end of the line and back. After this section we move back to the village, and house, the mother had left behind - oddly she and daughter, Iza, sold the house to Iza's ex, a prominent doctor in the town. He remodels and house, which he'd always yearned to own - we learn in an extensive back-story section about his difficult childhood or mistreatment and abandonment - and we see that he is engaged to Lidia, the nurse who had cared for Vince (Iza's father) in his last days. There's a plot thread here that will need some untangling: Iza's mother (Etta?, I think they use her name only once) was extremely jealous of Lidia and puzzled as to why Vince had bequeathed to her a photograph or drawing of his native village - why he did so, why Etta cares so much about that, and what her relationship to the family might be, we really don't know yet. This novel has only a few characters, but has a lot of back story and complex inter-relations among the characters; in less skillful hands the narrative could become tiresome or obscure or self-consciously post-modern - but not here: Szabo's style is so clear (props to the translator may be in order - will look up his name) and her control so complete (she seems to have a complete understanding of her narrative from the outset, not figuring it out and embellishing as she goes) that the novel flows smoothly along its sinuous course.

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