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

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

A possible allegorical reading of Szabo's Iza's Ballad

Book group will meet today to discuss Magda Szabo's 1963 novel, Iza's Ballad (original title: Pilate), and I proposed one additional possible reading of this novel. Yes, we see pretty quickly in the novel that the eponymous Iza thinks, or convinces herself, that she's a devoted daughter who is sparing no expense to take care of her recently widowed mother - and all the neighbors agree that no one could have a daughter as devoted as Iza, but we see that she is completely controlling and not giving her mother an ounce of the care and affection that she really needs, meaning, no time to mourn, no independence, no freedom to live the rest of her life in her familiar surroundings - and over the course of the novel Iza becomes ever more monstrous, till at the end we realize she has no feelings for other people and lives in cold isolation, despite her attempts to "do good," both to her mother and to her patients (she is a successful physician). I have also noted in earlier posts that the politics of contemporary Hungary - the 1956 uprising against the Soviet state, in particular - are notable by their absence; reading this novel one would think that 1960 Hungary was a land of prosperity and culture: great public services, great health care, plenty of concerts and literary events, excellent public transportation, and so on - not a word about the crappy housing and services let alone the political oppression that we know existed under the Soviet reign in Eastern Europe. Obviously, Szabo had to be wary of the censors if she wanted to publish in Hungary in her lifetime. But maybe Szabo was even more sly than we first thought; could this entire novel be an allegory? Isn't it possible that Iza's control of her mother's life, under the guise of being a good daughter and taking care of all of her mother's interests, much like the Soviet state?: promising freedom and prosperity for the satellite countries while creating a regime of oppression and terror?

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