How pleased I was to have identified with Iza so much! There was even something close to a silent pride that I initially felt. It was as if I were reading my own mother’s description of myself – how Iza organized her life and her schedule, the tidiness, the discipline, the sense of responsibility, the restraint, her satisfaction in not having to give account of herself to anyone!
But how I trembled, as I turned the pages approaching the finale when I realized that it was because of this unrelenting self-discipline seeping into the cracks of her relationships that led to heartbreaking consequences.
It is for readers with aging parents. It is for every new generation that believes they are so much wiser than the previous one, so practical even in matters of the heart, and yet, unwittingly, so heartless.
It is for societies that reject the past and the old deeming these to be outdated and sentimental, failing to acknowledge that the past and the old hold the clues to the present and the new.
Although set in postwar Hungary, the spirit of this novel is contemporary: the timelessness of its message, its tragedies that are themselves the lessons, will gnaw at my soul for years to come.
Few books leave me feeling defeated. This one did. I felt so helpless under the influence of such simple but penetrating prose.
It is that dazed emotion one undergoes when someone so much wiser with experience sings in a pensive gasp, “I really don’t know life… at all…” Yes, someone like the inimitable Joni Mitchell, only Magda Szabó does it with an outstanding novel that she affectionately hands over to the reader saying, “You really don’t know life… at all…”
And in the presence of such masterful artistry and truth, what else can one do but applaud and weep?