Péter Esterházy, (April 14 1950 to July 14, 2016) was a Hungarian novelist, little known though much translated. The problem of evil, particularly the way some events and/or details, are ignored, is explored in one of Esterhazy's books.
The Book of Hrabalm (1990, translated by Judith Sollosy. 1993) suggests that rather than love, there is such a thing as law that guides events, or "maybe not even the law but the memory of the law. The jerking spider's leg that is the memory of the spider. A shadow world." [Which is not an answer, and the question remains]
'How, how, [can such happen] and the cat's miaow, that's how! Besides, it's been elucidated, theologically speaking.
Esterhazy's own life may inform better than any of his fiction; below is the the obituary which appeared in The Telegraph:
Péter Esterházy, the writer, who has died aged 66, was a scion of one of Europe’s greatest aristocratic families; he might have led the gilded life of a count and patron of the arts, but he had the misfortune to be born under communism.
Esterházy was not an easy writer. His novels were full of verbal pyrotechnics and often unmarked quotations, allusions and paraphrases – mostly inaccessible to anyone who could not boast a literary horizon as broad as his...Yet he became Hungary’s most popular writer, partly because he provided a carnivalesque counterpoint to the linear narratives of Marxism. In a society where the proletariat were promised golden lavatories but there was nothing on the shelves, he used the ironies and absurdities of postmodern forms to highlight communism’s Orwellesque doublespeak and puncture its ideological certainties.
Esterházy achieved international fame in 1979 with A Novel of Production, a hilarious pastiche of the Stalinist morale-boosting proizvodstvennyi roman (“production novel”) in which an absurdist account of a young engineer’s struggles with bureaucracy is juxtaposed with an account of the everyday life of the author through the words of a fictional literary secretary.
In a preface to the English translation, published in 1995, Esterházy recalled: “It was written ...in the overripe period of the Kadar era, under small, Hungarian, pornographic circumstances where pornography should be understood as meaning lies, the lies of the body, the lies of the soul, our lies. Let us imagine, if we can, a country where everything is a lie, where the lack of democracy is called socialist democracy, economic chaos socialist economy, revolution anti-revolution, and so on.”
Returning to the satirical traditions of Rabelais and Sterne, Esterházy unveiled the prostitution of language in a society where “looking for the truth is always an adventure, more exhilarating than Casanova’s, more exalted than Parsifal’s – even better than Timur and his band of Young Pioneers in the perennial Soviet favourite...”
Esterházy ’s most famous book, Celestial Harmonies, was published after the end of communism, in 2000, and took as its subject (loosely speaking) the counts and princes from whom Esterházy was descended and who were once the mightiest landowners of Central Europe. In the first half of the book, a kaleidoscope of stories, previously existing texts, vignettes and mood portraits, Esterházy related the fate of his family through the central figure of “my father” – a term which encompassed all the narrator’s fathers, back to the dynasty’s beginnings.
In a more easily digestible second half he evoked the trials and tribulations of the family under Hungary’s 20th century political upheavals through the life of his father, Count Mátyás Esterházy. It explored how, after the advent of communism the family struggled to hold on to its past while coping with the brutal realities of dispossession. Péter’s father gets by as a manual labourer, then a translator. “No, son, we’re not poor,” he explains, “we’re just living in poverty.” When an opportunity arises to take an active role in the resistance he shies off, not wanting to burden the movement with the Esterházy name.
The most moving parts of the book are those in which Esterházy’s own childish innocence collides with the historical complexities of his father’s plight. When the six-year-old Péter is told that he can free his father from prison by signing a denunciation he barely understands, he signs, and is bewildered when his father spits at him for betraying the family code.
Count Mátyás, nonetheless, emerges as a man whose humanist values survive the family’s decline under totalitarianism. So it came as a shock to Esterházy’s readers when in 2002 he published an addendum to the book, Revised Edition, in which he revealed that his father had been a communist-era informant.
Péter Esterházy was born in Budapest... the eldest of four sons of the former Count Mátyás Esterházy de Galántha (all titles had been abolished in 1947) and Magdolna, née Mányoki. His paternal grandfather was Count Móric Esterházy (1881–1960), who briefly served as Prime Minister of Hungary in 1917.
Péter and his brothers (one of whom, Márton, would find fame as an international footballer) spent their childhood in the countryside where their family had been exiled as manual labourers. Péter trained as a mathematician at university.
Péter’s father would die in 1998 and a few years later Péter applied to see the records of secret service surveillance on his family. Opening the files, he was shocked to find his father’s handwriting. “I could not believe it was true,” he recalled, “because I had no memories that could support something like this.”
Targeted after the uprising of 1956, at a time when the Hungarian regime was hunting down former revolutionaries, who were then usually executed, Mátyás Esterházy agreed – almost certainly under extreme pressure – to become an informant. At first he seems to have satisfied his superiors who commented that “the agent gives more and more [to his work]”, though later reports were deemed less satisfactory: “The agent finds every opportunity not to write something compromising.” He filed reports until 1979, when he asked to be released.
Mátyás had been a good father to his children, “but all the time I was seeing a parallel story,” Péter recalled. Yet he found, on reflection, that he had lost none of his love or respect for his father and understood why Mátyás Esterházy had acted as he did: “There are times when you are put under so much pressure that you have no choice ... because he was also a representative of a historic family, the pressure was multiplied.”
Esterházy won numerous prizes and his books were translated into more than 20 languages, those available in English including Helping Verbs of the Heart (1985); The Transporters (1983) ....The Glance of Countess Hahn-Hahn (Down the Danube) (1991) and She Loves Me (1993).
He and his wife Margit had four children.
Good last line. A masterpiece, this obituary.