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Interview with Gábor T. Szántó

Chinese readers will soon have Hungarian writer Gábor T. Szántó’s collection 1945 and Other Stories in translation, the book that spawned the feature film that has become a global phenomenon, translated into 40 languages and winning more than 20 awards.

Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press will release 1945 and Other Stories in 2021, translated by Yu Zemin.

The critically acclaimed feature film 1945, directed by Ferenc Török, is an adaptation of the collection’s opening story 1945, Homecoming, which is a post-Holocaust, post-World War II story where two Orthodox Jews, survivors of the Holocaust, arrive in a Hungarian village looking for a cemetery.

The locals do not know why these two Jewish men are there and they start to behave aggressively towards them “because they have a feeling of guilt because the state confiscated the Jewish property one year before, and the Jews were deported from Hungary and from all over the states where the German army, the Nazis, occupied the countries,” Szántó said.

The locals who collaborated with the Nazis and were given some of the Jewish property started to feel anxious that they might have to give back the property.

“Some of the people started to feel guilty because they realised what they have done. They realised their wrongdoing, what was behind it,” Szántó said. “So, this whole story is about how after two foreigners come to a village everything starts to change because of the inner complex of the people. Because of their inner feeling of their guilt.”

While the opening story in the book is a haunting, historical tale, it is part of a wider powerful collection that focuses on the minority perspective, with each story addressing in some way minority complexes or minority difficulties engaging with the majority.

The stories are not just about history, but engage with personal conflict, love affairs and familiar affairs. One of Szántó’s key messages in the collection is that besides the historical traumas, and besides the historical minority issues, there is another kind of minority, the biggest minority in the world ever and always – the children.

“They are the members of the biggest minority and it is behind a lot of minority problems and complexes,” he said. “The pressure that the children have from their parents in the process of education, and they inherit the traumas, they inherit the problems, the complexes, and they give it to their own children. So, it is somehow behind all of the different kinds of minority complexes.”

PROLIFIC WRITER

In his career to date Szanto has published several novels, collections of short stories, essays, screenplays and a book of poetry.

He is also the editor-in-chief of the Hungarian Jewish monthly Szombat, a cultural and political magazine.

Szombat, which means Sabbath, has “a very vivid website on which we react, on a daily basis, to the political and the cultural news and events,” Szanto said. “We have been working on it since the beginning of the 1990s. We still survive.”

Another one of Szántó’s novels that is enjoying success – recently translated into Turkish and Czech – is the novel Kafka’s Cats, a novel that focuses on two investigations. The first investigation is one into Kafka’s heritage, while the second is examining a report that Kafka was seen in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944 – an allegation that causes consternation as Kafka died in 1924, 20 year prior to that.

In the intertwining story, Szántó’s narrator get wrapped up in both investigations and is led on global chase for the facts.

In his latest novel, Europa Symphony, Szántó writes about a Transylvanian family and a West Berlin family who have an interconnected past that dates back to Russian prisoner of war camps. One one side, we have a Transylvanian man who becomes an informer for the Romanian police as a last resort to get a passport so he can travel to West Germany in search of his lost love. While in West Germany we meet the head of the Philharmonic orchestra who has Romanian connections and was a prisoner of war in 1945.

From the view points of the different characters from different backgrounds “we get totally different aspects of the context,” Szántó said.

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