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

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Great start and severaly mysterious elements in Magda Szabo's Iza's Ballan

Promising start to Iza's Ballad (1963), by the 20th-century Hungarian writer Magda Szabo. The central character in the novel is Ettie (?) Szocs, and the novel opens with the death of her husband, Vince, of many years (they're in their 60s) and her reflections on the the course of his life and their life together; over the next few chapters we learn fragments of his life story - born and raised in rural Hungary, his parents killed in a flood that nearly destroyed their village, he was raised after that by a thoughtful and helpful schoolteacher. He apparently rose from a menial occupation - dike-keeper - to become a local judge or magistrate, but when he issued a decision of acquitting 4 peasants (we don't yet know any details about the crime or the charge) he was stripped of his power by the Hungarian government. Following that, the family - Vince, Ettie, and daughter Iza, lived in poverty - but shortly before his death the government reversed its decision and restored him to favor. On his deathbed, Vince bequeaths to his nurse, Lidia, a picture of his native village. This action deeply troubles Ettie - she doesn't like Lidia for some reason - and she needs to find out why he gave his nurse (it was not a long-term illness or hospitalization) this picture. She goes through his belongings to try to find a clue. Meanwhile, daughter Iza, a very successful physician and always a precocious child, comes back to the family home and takes complete control - says they will sell the house and all belongings (her ex-husband, Anton, is a likely buyer) and will take her mother to live w/ her in Budapest. In fact, she takes over the entire process of selling everything and bringing her mother to the city - sending her mother off to a health spa to relax after the funeral. In one way, her forthright decisions and actions are commendable and appreciated - she is a devoted daughter after all - but in another way her control is creepy and importunate. Is Iza trying to hide something, or trying to protect her mother from something? Her mother seems to appreciate the help, but this good will cannot last - there's something driving Iza that's not quite normal.

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