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

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

The sorrow at the heart of Szabo's Iza's Ballad

The second section of Magda Szabo's Iza's Ballad shifts to the capital of Budapest (set in 1960, the novel was publishedi n 1963; English translation is relatively recent) as the recently widowed Etta (?) Szocs moves in with her daughter, Iza, a successful physician. Here we begin to see the cultural clash hinted at in the first section: Iza, a completely take-charge woman who thinks she's acting as a loving daughter, tells her mother she'll take care of everything and, in the space of a week or so (not really believable) she sells the mother's house and most of her belongings, packs for her mother, and sets up a room for her in her Budapest apartment. She seems to think she's doing something benevolent, but we immediately see that her mother will have no place in this world. As one telling incident: her mother literally gathered and packed a bundle of sticks w/ which to light the cooking fire in the heart of her home-to-be; of course she's shocked and dismayed at all of the modern conveniences, at the fact that a woman comes in to cook and clean, and especially that her daughter has presumptuously replaced all her clothes, blankets, linens, even furniture with new items. The last straw - leaving the family dog, Captain, back in the village (under the care of her ex). Se we watch the mother slowly acclimatize to her new life, in which she feels alien and displaced and without a purpose. There is comic potential here, but Szabo is treating the material seriously and without sentiment - slowly, we see that Iza is, intentionally or not, almost monstrous and we feel sorrow for Etta. In some way this story is analogous to the changes that affected millions of lives in postwar Eastern Europe, though the politics are kept largely to the side (except for references to the late father's "rehabilitation" - how the state can control the lives of citizens who speak our or make a mis-step).

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