Katalin Street by Magda Szabó
As a reminder of the impact of war on humans who survive it, Katalin Street is stark, and at times harrowing
“No one had told them that the most frightening thing of all about the loss of youth is not what is taken away but what is granted in exchange. Not wisdom. Not serenity. Not sound judgement or tranquillity. Only the awareness of universal disintegration.”
Katalin Street spans a period before and after the Second World War, from the lives of three neighbouring households who live in Budapest, through the German occupation and to the aftermath faced by the Elekes family. They share a cramped apartment with difficult memories of a deceased child, who observes silently from the afterlife. As lives change, decisions are made which break loyalties. Fundamentally, these people can never go back to the way things were before the war, and the effects forever haunt them.
Nostalgia runs through the book, but not happily; characters reckon with the unease, cruelty, and tragedy which has visited them, and a sense of loss in their lives, for people as well as small everyday desires, is tangible. Although characters are difficult to keep straight at first, the themes are unmistakably big; the book depicts humanity at its rawest and saddest. As a reminder of the impact of war on humans who survive it, Katalin Street is stark, and at times harrowing; Szabó asks us to bear witness to a punishing postwar regime through a locally trained lens and the troubled, intimate lives of its inhabitants.
Released via Quercus, 10 Jan, £12.99