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

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Friday, March 24, 2017

How did Soviet censorship affect Szabo's Iza's Ballad?

Re-reading Magda Szabo's Iza's Ballad (original title, Pilate - why change an author's title? too much translator's liberty there I'd say) for book group Sunday, equally if not more impressed on re-reading, noting how Iza's bizarre and even cruel personality just slowly edges up on us - this woman whom we initially see (and others see) as a deeply devoted daughter gradually becomes almost monstrous in her controlling and officiousness and obliviousness to her mother's need to grieve and to live her own life, different though that may be from Iza's life. Another matter of note: This novel was published in Hungary in 1963 or so, set in 1960. To what extent is the picture of life in Soviet-controlled Hungary accurate? To what extent distorted by Soviet censorship (or Szabo's self-censorship)? Reading this novel one would think that 1960 Budapest was a thriving, modern country with excellent health care and housing, great public transportation, minimal crime (though there is a reference to prostitution) - can this be accurate? Maybe so and maybe the idea of a backwards, oppressed economy with crappy government housing, terrible food and social services was myth perpetrated by American anti-Soviet propaganda? I visited the USSR in 1971 and found conditions pretty horrible, although they tried to build a nice facade for tourists. My guess is that Szabo had to be cautious about how she portrayed her country - though she slyly included a few hints of difficult living conditions: the relatively primitive life in the rural communities (Iza's mother, Ettie, cooks on a wood stove, for example - though there's also a sense of nostalgia there, and clinging to old ways) and even a class structure (Iza, a prominent doctor, hires a cleaning lady/cook to take care of her housework and she gets special treatment at the health spa she co-founded - though she does still have to pay the bill for her mother's stay there).

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