Unreleased Front Matters
Exclusively for Lampoon, we are glad to bring you the writing that opens Freskó (Fresco), the first novel by the most translated Hungarian writer, Magda Szabó. The Italian edition – Affresco – will be available in bookstores across Italy as of Thursday 12 October published by Edizioni Anfora and translated by Vera Gheno and Claudia Tatasciore (pp. 252, € 18.00). Fresco was the first novel written by Szabó, who is also the author of other masterpieces including The Door (Einaudi) and Abigail (Anfora) – and was discovered by Hermann Hesse who was adamant that all her works should be translated, so much so that he once said about her: «With Frau Szabó you have caught a golden fish. Buy all of her novels, the one she is writing and the one she will write». By gracious permission of the publisher, we are glad to present you the preface penned by Magda Szabó herself.
Text Magda Szabó
At the dawn of my career, I made my debut as a poet. In 1949, my second book of poetry was awarded the Baumgarten Prize, which was withdrawn the same day after being accused of being a class enemy. The act served as a signal: my generation retreated from the scene and the collective decision to cease any publishing crippled the Hungarian literary life for years. I stopped writing poetry and the bitter experience of mourning following a bereavement within the family resulted in the topic of my first novel, Fresco. The writing of the book dates back to 1953 and, fallen in the wrong hands, it could have caused me all sort of troubles, including being sent to the Gulag. I was very aware of what I was describing; as a matter of fact I did not dare keeping the manuscript at home and it soon started to be passed around from person to person. A copy was hidden away in Debrecen, underneath the coal inside my parents’ coal cellar. Then 1956 brought a solution: that year, it was the publishers who came searching for those writers who had endured enforced silence asking them for their manuscripts. It was then that Fresco was brought back to life. Fresco was favored by that God that promised reparations for the humiliated outcast: news of the surprisingly favorable reception in Hungary reached publisher Insel – based at the time in West Germany – which led the volume to be released internationally. Unexpectedly, the book garnered success and attention also abroad, so much so, in fact, that, at home, the now sorely embarrassed Marxist critics had to tone down their attacks turning their criticism into polite appreciation. Fresco is the story of one single day: Annuska – whose painter brush had been seized by the power and who, after running away from her parents’ home, earns a living making ornamental objects in Budapest, returns, for the first time after a long absence, to her native village to attend the funeral of her mother. Yet, upon meeting and confronting those individuals that used to be the guides and witnesses to her life, she realizes that they no longer hold any power over her. Family, villagers and everyone that hurt her or whom she loathed in the past no longer pose any threat, quite the opposite: they can only be pitied. Annusha makes her way back to the capital bringing with her nothing but commiseration: on the fast train to Budapest, together with the fear she used to feel, she leaves behind the whole of Tarba like a far distant memory. To me, Fresco will always be the symbol of a new life as a writer, the Easter miracle of our crushed youth, a resurrection. Once, in the years of mounting persecution, I almost lashed out at God questioning him why he had created me given what I was forced to endure. Today I know: God answered me through Fresco.