Mihály Dés: Budapest baroque
Commentaries and criticism
(The novel was published 20th of March, by Magvető, Budapest)
That is a thick, entirely interesting book of unusual genre. As a fundamental feature – there are real people under real names, real people incognito and mixed people under fictive names. Let’s take the protagonist first; him who introduces himself as Janos Koszta – is a big mouth, a compulsive womanizer living from one today to the other. His family, his benevolent relationship with his granny, the settings and locations of his life, his friends, the women he had affairs with, his current serious relationship (obviously he has that too…), the bohemian opposition movement of Budapest, his professional failures – spiked with astonishingly beautiful and authentic descriptions of love scenes – bear witness to deep knowledge and understanding of the best pieces of South-American magic realism and the pornographic literature.
Self-mocking irony accompanies the author even there – that is quite unusual in such writings. That is the author’s true invention, his novum in the world literature. I couldn’t stop thinking while reading: how can this book possibly end? Well, the author has found an excellent solution. He put the long epilogue in the mouth of the best friend who immigrated to the USA. His critical remarks slam today’s Hungary – and he does dig deep. From a poetic point a view, it would have been a shallow ending, therefore that is not the last chapter. But the one that lets us know the details of how Koszta ended up in a psychiatric ward. That is also a remarkable piece as well that you couldn’t have read anywhere ever.
I definitely want to highlight two other things: the power of the language that depicts the characters of the intellectual demi-monde and the explanations of the Bible. That’s Koszta’s favorite book to read when he is sad. Though, it has to be admitted, he adds odd and funny remarks to it.
This is a highly recommended book for anyone who’s into humor rooted deeply in language and does not blush (more than necessary) when reading frequent sex scenes.
András Török, Vademecum
Dolce vita behind the Iron Curtain… Love affairs, friendships, betrayals… Vibrant storytelling, diverse styles, intense characters, lives and destinies in Budapest of the eighties. Highly entertaining both for those who experienced all that and who just heard about those times.
Éva Karádi, Hungarian Lettre International
An excellent postmodern development and historical novel.
Ferenc Mező, Mozgó világ
Brilliantly built novel based on unexpected counterpoints about our collective myths embodied in individual destinies. Impossible to put down!
Kalman Barsy, Argentina – Puerto Rican writer
Cutting profane content playing with a limitless structure. A story starting with an epiphany and – through plenty of absorbing picaresque adventures – ending in an Apocalypse… The narrator fails and his story represents the failure of a generation. But the story of this failure became much more than a roman à clef – it came to be a great book capturing forever a state of being.
Imre Barna, director of Európa publishing house
No one has ever read such a rampant, ’uninhibited’ book. It is right to say there is no book like this – more precisely – no one has ever wrote such a book.
Me myself, I was amazed by the ambition of the author that was almost flawlessly fulfilled. Actually, a limitless ego – the author’s – struggles with his own material. I have only read half of the book but I am absolutely assured that a great book was written.
András Bruck, writer & journalist
Budapest Baroque is a valuable documentary of the intellectuals of Budapest; of habits and debates of certain groups and of the sweet melancholy of an era – the 1980s. In the meantime, it is a tricky game considering the novel is a parody of reality, travesty of closely watched readings, that is to say, exclusive roman-a-cléf interpretations, since the novel encloses many keys and locks to match.
János Szegő, litera.hu
The baroque is warranted here by the colorful richness of the story and the style.
He got back to his mother tongue with a monumental first novel. Hilarious, grotesque and erotic…
Zsuzsa Mátraházi, HVG.
This vigorous novel is a vivid chronicle of an epoch, the alternative intellectual’s way of life in the eighties; of a character’s search for his own place, a suite of biblical paraphrases, a humorous panty-guide and a lot of other thing.
Júlia Jolsvai, Irodalmi jelen
Budapest Baroque is a voluminous work not only for its 581 pages. Although the reception up to this point praised this novel mostly for its epoch document value, the exciting adventures of the underground life in the Budapest of the eighties shrouds the other streaks and beauties. Koszta’s interior monologues, his squirming, his diary works wonderful and the Budapest scenes of the epoch, the house parties, the concerts, the snow-bounded Vigadó square with the policemen, the dome of the Fészek club etc. are painted in a way that also those relive it even who didn’t live it… Although we drank Budapest baroque almost in one, we think if Dés –who squeezed in this book the sentiment on life of the youth of an epoch, the existential squirming of the East and Middle European intelligenzia of the 20th and 21 century, his theory of love, his vision of Hungary– would have written a thinner novel that would have resulted better. But even so, it’s obligatory.
Orsolya Péntek, Magyar Hírlap
Postmodern pornographic belle-lettres with countless women, genitals and seduction; masterful legerdemain with the language, orgies of words and ideas spanning pages, all from the point of view of Don Juan from Budapest.
This irresistibly eventful and spicy novel with surprising turn of screws and with a structure and language both rich and colorful like baroque that is rooted in the Spanish picaresque tradition.
Tamás Ungvári, Klubrádió
One of the features that make distinction between this novel and the literary reflex we are used to is the cloudless joy we can detect in the writing. The author seemingly enjoys guiding the reader through his hero’s life story and he does his best to carry out this trip more or less straight with the biggest variability possible… Budapest baroque is a widely ambitious account on the epoch of his setting… The old times appear in some of the chapters of a family novel extract and the present by the populous panoply of characters dinging and donging in every pages of this book. […] Zeno Cosini [from Svevo’s novel] and János Koszta are evenly innocent and unsuspicious parts and victims of their times, yet the epoch would have lost a lot without them, without them observing and talking. Fictional character of a fictional novel couldn’t be more honored.
István Csuhai, Élet és irodalom
Mihály Dés` courageous novel grasps a lot and holds on to a lot. Through a painful love story the reader gets to dip into the rebelling world of the intellectuals of Budapest in the late eighties. The protagonist, János Koszta is a sample of that class – talented but marginalized who seeks for satisfaction and freedom in sexuality […]. The fascinatingly rich – and sometimes bitter – novel, with its ingenious language absorbs the reader completely. Dés not only evokes the era but also brings the reader into the context of the book and that is why it’s impossible to put it down.
Ágnes Kulcsár, Színes RTv Magazine
Not only philosophical and art historical descriptions but smoothly embedded smart essays, cynicism and typical jokes of Budapest feed Baroque of Budapest. The author has an outstanding sense of style – he writes as he was composing pictures […] Baroque of Budapest does not have a happy ending for it’s not a nostalgic retro novel but an adventure of a generation. The protagonist Koszta quits the eighties in a turn leaving the mature reader alone, being just happy to have been his contemporary for a little while. There may be another option though: the reader who couldn’t live the experience may happily take part of the time travel.
This book is highly captivating, impossible to put it down. Those who lived those times can revive their true memories and their youth. Those who didn’t will get an extremely interesting documentation of the era. Thought provoking, bittersweet, a great book indeed. Its 588 pages shouldn’t scare anyone, pages roll quickly, the book reads itself. You will be part of a great adventure!
Gábor Tamás, Gabó olvas blog
The author knows a lot –everything– about form, style, narrative techniques, predecessors, tradition and renovation – and now he is demonstrating it. The luxurious tale is presented in a rich and colorful language full of fun, wordplays and graphic descriptions and the text is constantly enriched with new stories, inserts, ideas and essays. Willing to prove that “the existing narrative forms don’t work anymore”, Dés is constantly changing the genres and angles […] In this novel the victim being roped in by the Secret Police is the one writing a report about the Secret Police. The chapter written as a theatrical comedy is also irresistibly hilarious where our hero pays a visit to the cemetery with his aunt and his adorable 93 years old granny. The dialogues are always on the edge of absurd, revealing a lot about the dead and the living of the family.
András Gervai, Könyvpiac
Stunning parodies of literary styles, ironic quotes, fabulous statements engage the reader – galvanized with shy intellectualism: a Nietzsche line between two “fuck offs”…
Gábor Erdélyi S., 168ora.hu
It is hard to believe that the 600 page thick, dense book is Mihály Dés’ first novel. The author living in Spain for quite several years started writing it 20 years ago […], but for some reason the process was interrupted. After getting through the book, I undoubtedly confirm: we are very lucky that he has continued writing.
Julis Varga, kulturpart.hu
Mihály Dés’ book is an outstandingly entertaining large-scale tableau of Hungary in the eighties and around change of the regime. The baroque of Budapest is definitely on the required reading list for those who want to know more about the world in which – in the author’s words – „we had such a good time feeling bad”
Ákos Nagypál, Könyvklub
More than a hundred pages are all about the heroine’s baby-doll and it’s still fascinating. And Dés keeps surprising us: more and more diverse chapters are coming: immigrant letters, secret service reports, film novel, movie script – anything that comes to his mind thinking of the eighties. And the text doesn’t taste like a documentary at all. In the end, we get a unique story of a man at Christ’s age.
Ferenc Czinki, Magyar Narancs
Despite its huge success, Dés’ book is not a genre or commercial fiction at all – on the contrary – a literary piece with sophisticated structure, full of literary parodies and cultural references, evoking the bohemian atmosphere of the eighties. Despite all that complexity – through its diverse tones, humor, erotica and ingenious language– the book will find the way not only to the generation of the eighties but to younger generations also.
Krisztina Antalfy, Voilamode
Intricate love stories, family affairs, bohemian adventures, betrayed friendships… A book you can’t stoop reading…
Nostalgia, parody and analysis at the same time. Some say it’s more heart breaking than five Bridget Jones.
Dés’ novel offers so many things; it is even hard to make a list of them. First absorbs you with his marvelous humor and then it takes you to a place where you have never expected to be. The genre is indefinable and readers get addressed in so many dimensions and interpretations that the reading-orgasm is guaranteed […] Beyond the incredible richness of his style Budapest baroque is an exceptional novel because of the originality of author bringing other meanings into action by the constant changes of the structure. He is playing with style and genre from chapter to chapter, so the reader gets a whole display of how many ways Dés can write well.
Lovemaking is represented like you could hardly ever have read it in other books and described with such naturalness you don’t even realize you should be surprised. That’s what is happening in every scene: we don’t find showy or ostentatious the hero’s frequently extreme behavior; we only accept him as he is.
Budapest baroque is a very important novel since it give us a complete synthesis of opposite tendencies –active intellectual vs. nihilistic artist, light and humoristic tone vs. hardly meaningful content, ironic play with the epoch vs. astonishingly trustworthy portrayal of the epoch–, all that make it an outstanding novel of contemporary literature.
Réka Pethő, campusonline.hu
Oh, this is unspeakable! I won’t even start telling it, it would just pull me off like a gulf, and I would just tell it from the very beginning till the very end, and that would take 600 pages again, so you’d better read it. Read it, read through, read within and then start all over again.
Slangs represent a whole range of sources, our grandmas will blush and so will our little sisters and in return we get many outdated expressions or neologisms. (I think he might have overwritten the slang dictionary by using nooky). But then again I am just babbling. Regarding this book you cannot do better.
Be aware, besides his choice of words, uhm, frivol – ok, I am saying it out loud – pleasantly erotomaniac, on some pages there is a certain nostalgia – I mean for the generation of the author who could read as they took Viagra or use it I would even say as lubricants. For the younger ones as well – watch out when licking your fingers to turn a page!
Vigorous, explicit strings of anecdotes, vagrant parade of essays, a memoire inserted into a novel (and vice versa): this thick book is a lot if things….
Dés depicts the world, joy and sorrow of the young intellectuals of Budapest in the eighties by evoking memories, in an expressive, erotic way in an astonishing style. The first signs of the popular book’s emerging cult are the thematic city walk based on the novel and its famous locations; and the fact that the author, living in Barcelona for over a decade now, was being asked to apply the novel to theatre stage.
La femme, 2013 summer
It is quite amusing how the author plays with literary forms, the nostalgia factor gets maximum points (not that we are the same generation but he did raise sort of nostalgia towards an era when I wasn’t even born or just went to nursery – and that is something). Otherwise I love Budapest novels; and this is it, a thick one. Places, streets, parties, women, celebs of those times, buddies – everybody is here. And he writes exactly how we, how they lived back then, literary. I liked his (self)irony, his explosions (I feel we speak the same when we get mad :D), I liked his intellectual masturbations, …uhm…, theories (i.e.: those about normative love and marriage, the other one at the end on language and many more).
The author simply absorbs the reader. It is like wandering into a pub and when we are just about to sit down the local clown picks us and assertively starts telling stories.
The big literary success of the past few months is Mihály Dés’ Budapest baroque that portrays the young intellectuals of the eighties of Budapest so expressively that it has already been becoming a cult novel.
Tamás Falus: Ügyvédvilág
Mihály Dés’ writing stays away from nostalgic illustrations and retromaniac clichés. His tailor-made novel does not commemorate an era but rethinks his youth defining adventurous story and its social background.
István Mecséri: Budai polgár
Nice thick book, it was a pleasure to read it. It accompanied my life for a few weeks, it grew upon me a little, I was sad to notice there were no more pages to read.
Dés tells the story of the protagonist’s love and break up in this unpredictable novel, lavishing in literary genres – like the author wanted to write the Ulysses of the socialist era. A readable version, what’s more a readable version than what James Joyce did.
Gábor Sain, konyvpub.hu
Half of Budapest „died for it”, everyone quotes: “Never has any generation on Earth had such a good time feeling bad as we did” […] Dés – I believe – creates nostalgia in different generations, so we are yearning for the mid-eighties – men for the female character’s waist, women for Jani, the 32 year-old alpha dog writing in first person.
Ferenc Balla, barkaonline.hu
Contemporary literature has only a few novels with such great humor and self-irony […] The story takes place in the last years of the socialist era – the intellectual protagonist is just about to emigrate, but till then worships his desire toward women and culture – resulting in a lot of trouble. The summary above is a strong simplification of the book in which style is a real tour the force. The reader finds himself sometimes in a Thousand and One Nights story, sometimes in a family novel, sometimes in a diary, in other times stumbling in a psychoanalytic confession or tasting the language of informant, editorial and company reports. The author almost luxuriating in the language that is humorous, moving, cynical and lyrical, sensual and obscene, intellectual and light at the same time.
Csilla Mihalicz, Nők lapja
Multiple fictional interconnections, box-in-a-box, real reality (if it exists) collides with the novel’s world. The same sentence that is loathsome in the protagonist’s level is an annoyingly sparkling perfection in Dés’ novel. The thought that sounds as a self-justifying nonsense is a bitter-wise self-reflection of a generation. Each chapter in which Koszta fail to find the suitable form of expression is a new opportunity for Dés to mock and exercise the very style on the highest level. Dés’ novel yells in our faces: fuck off, kids, are you still doing this? I do really hope that Dés’ message reaches many besides Koszta’s. Oh, yes, the party is permanent in the Carpathian basin.
Ági Mészöly, librarius.hu
In a good few of half thousand pages this is pretty ours: the novel of a generation, of the people following the Great Generation, stripped to a smaller one […] But it shoult not be afraid: that reliving of the past is also a of play with reality, a kind of „literary carnival” with a larger-than-life humour and a multiple meaning wit.
Though Mihály Dés has published a great number of essays, not a fiction until now, when he, at the age of 63, debuted with a real monument.
I’m almost sure that I will not read such a good book for a long while, but I pray the Lord that he will give me something like that again. I felt quite cosy in this book, though I was only conceived in the year when the story takes place. This is not a perfect book but, let’s say, out of the 560 pages, on 540 every every letter is in the right place.
kevés szóval blog
Hungarian Cultural Studies (2015)