Exuberance is beauty

#128 of 2011 • Sunflower by Gyula Krúdy, translated from the Hungarian by John Bátki, with an introduction by John Lukacs. Published by NYRB Classics.

“Let’s wait for winter. The first, the second, the third winter… Let’s wait for monotonous evenings of this place, the courses of the moon, the howling-wolf nights. We’ll just have to make sure to wind the clocks each day, bury our memories, sit in tranquility by the warm fireside, play enough tric-trac, and never, ever write letters without each other’s knowledge, no matter how overcast the twilight.”

“I’ll be waiting for you.”

“Let crazy life rush headlong on the highway, for others; we shall contemplate the sunflowers, watch them sprout, blossom, fade away. Yesterday they were still giants, but now, in autumn, they are thatch on the roof.”

It was clear, right from the very beginning: this was unlike any other book I’d read before. Sunflower is a fever dream, violently romantic, lush and crazy and demanding and bewildering and beautiful. It’s language follows that dream logic, the metaphors swinging every which way, every mundane act elevated to hyperbole. And it’s dizzying collective of characters?

There is a woman, quiet and too-beautiful, and the two men who love her—one, a good-for-nothing lover hands long open to be granted her wealth, the other, an Álmos-Dreamer [a long line of lovers who have killed themselves for mostly unrequited love.] And, indeed, Andor Álmos-Dreamer kills himself for Eveline—but when Eveline rushes to his cooling corpse, he wakens. Of course he does. There is also Mr. Pistoli, a Casanova now firmly middle-aged, and all the baggage of his past loves, past marriages—three of them, his wives gone mad. Mr. Pistoli is in love with Miss Malvina Maszkerádi, the feisty, determined-spinster. Miss Maszkerádi is in love with a tree, and would like to stay that way, thank you very much.

Ah, but this is the best I can do, for now: Read Sunflower. Read it over weeks and months, it changes every time you return to it, and that is never a bad thing for something so charged with life and language and the strangest ways people decide to live and love. Read Sunflower, read, read, read. I know I will again, and soon, hopefully soon.

PS – I have Isabella of Magnificent Octopus to thank for leading me to this book. This is the review that clued me in on the possibility of a romance between me and this glorious novel.

PPS – A more coherent version of my dizzypants-love for this novel: The LA Times review by Arthur Phillips, which begins, “Maybe I should just write, “Read Sunflower,” and leave it at that.”

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2 comments

  1. This sounds wonderful.

  2. i love seeing your inspiration for picking up a book. iris is right, this simply sounds wonderful.

    (what are the chances that nyrb sends me this as the next book club book? i hope they’re high).

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