Page 52 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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O the r writers reso rt to d iffe ren t strategies. In a novel that
is in all probability the most remarkable Hunga rian literary
achievement o f the 1980s, Peter Nadas’s
Emlekiratok konyve
(Book o f Memoirs, 1986), we have a protagonist who comes
from an orthodox Communist family bu t whose real back­
g round is solidly bourgeois. With subtle artistry the au tho r de ­
scribes the lifestyle and sensibility o f this family, contrasting
them with those o f o ther, very d iffe ren t characters in the book.
Budapest: Magveto Konyvkiado, 1989, p. 22. Other Hungarian intellectuals
o f the same generation have expressed similar sentiments. For example,
one o f the prominent dissident thinkers o f the 1970s, Janos Kis, who is
at present the leader o f the opposition Free Democrats in Parliament, writes
in his essay “On Ways o f Being a Jew:” “I consider Hungarian culture,
history, the destiny o f Hungarian society to be my own. I do not have a
comparable direct relationship with any other culture, history, or people.
I come from a family which has been secularized for generations; the Jewish
religious traditions do not occupy me; my lack o f religious interest probably
explains why I am not drawn to them. I think o f my ancestors with love
and curiosity, but I do not feel that they are the markers o f an ethnic
community to which I belong. (Janos Kis,
Politics in Hungary: For a Democratic
Boulder, Colorado: Social Science Monographs, 1989 [distr. by
Columbia University Press], pp. 237-238. The noted literary critic, Sandor
Radnoti, had this to say about his Jewishness in the inaugural issue for
the journal
(Sabbath): “The Jewish religion has never had any at­
traction for me, but then no religion has. And the same goes for Jewish
political struggles, i.e., Zionism, though I do admire the only democracy
in the Middle East. I learned something about Jewish thought in the course
o f my philosophy studies, and have tried to fit it into my own cultural
perspective as one o f the sources o f European culture. I am unfamiliar
with the Hebrew language, and it’s not very likely I will ever become familiar
with it. Jewish existence — whatever the term might mean in addition to
the things just mentioned — is not o f primary importance in my life.”
(“Miert nem tartozom kisebbseghez?” [Why I Do Not Belong to a Minority].
November 1989:5.) On the other hand, the internationally ac­
claimed Hungarian novelist, George Konrad, whose novels
A cinkos
1982) and
Kerti mulatsag
(Feast in the Garden, 1989) reveal a great
deal about growing up Jewish in Hungary, summed up his feelings about
his Jewishness in an interview in the following manner: “I never wanted
not to be a Jew. I never wanted to dissolve, in the universality o f a liberal
assimilation or in the homogeneity o f an internationalist Communist as­
similation, the uniqueness o f my background: that I was born into a Hun­
garian Jewish family. The Jews are most certainly a people. How, in what
manner, they mingled with the Hungarian people: how they merged, how
they remained apart — these are complex historical questions. One thing
I know: I am at once a Hungarian and a Jew.” (Ivan Sanders, “The Nov­
elists: George Konrad,”
The New Republic,
January 5-12, 1980: 27).