Throat-Rattling

Gabriele Annan

  • Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb, translated by Len Rix
    Pushkin, 240 pp, £6.99, November 2002, ISBN 1 901285 50 2

In his afterword, Len Rix, the translator of this Hungarian novel, says that its narrative ‘coincides with rising Fascism at home and abroad, and probes the national obsession with suicide’. It was first published in 1937 in Budapest, and its author died in a Nazi labour camp six years later at the age of 43. He was, Rix explains, a cradle Catholic, but ‘his technically Jewish extraction and his lifelong stance against Fascism attracted mounting official persecution.’ All the same, Fascism – and then only the Italian variety – rates just two paragraphs in Journey by Moonlight. On his honeymoon, the hero Mihály (if such an unheroic man can be called a hero) notices that

the Italian papers were always ecstatically happy, as if they were written not by humans but by saints in triumph, just stepped down from a Fra Angelico in order to celebrate the perfect social system. There was always some cause for happiness: some institution was 11 years old, a road had just turned 12 . . . Like all foreigners, Mihály was exercised by the question of whether the people did actually welcome everything as fervently and were as steadily, indefatigably, tirelessly happy, as the papers insisted.

That’s all for Fascism. Suicide is another matter.

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