Magda Szabó: Iza’s Ballad

 © 2018 MDR
Budapest, Hungary

“As he spoke Lidia could see the schoolgirl Iza discussing the future with her father. She saw her as her father described her, as a pint-sized redeemer spreading out her school atlas and examining the map of Budapest because she wanted to see a major city, a really big city, and trying to work out where in City Park the statue of the historian Anonymous might stand. Iza loved the look of that hooded faceless figure. She saw it once when she was a young woman visiting Budapest…” Magda Szabó, Iza’s Ballad

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It is for societies that reject the past and the old deeming these to be outdated and sentimental, failing to acknowledge that the past and the old hold the clues to the present and the new.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?

7 thoughts on “Magda Szabó: Iza’s Ballad”

      1. If there’s someone who should worry about such a thing, it should be me. I tend to like some books that are an acquired taste. Rest assured, if you end up disliking any of my recommendations and I end up disliking some of yours, I’m sure they still won’t overshadow the many many books we already love mutually. Hahaha

        P.S. I’m about to start work but teary-eyed after that chapter with the two Ida pianists in The Eighth Life. I am already so emotionally invested in this book. 🤣

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well thats the joy of reading isn’t it? It’s to read and discover for yourself! I think I will love all the books you suggest, we do seem to have very similar tastes!

        Oh the emotions in that book…. I do remember shedding a few tears myself throughout the book!

        Liked by 1 person

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