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The Photographer at Sixteen

Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9780857058539

Price: £14.99

ON SALE: 31st January 2019

Genre: Biography & True Stories / Memoirs

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“A truly remarkable book . . . fiercely compelling” EDMUND DE WAAL

“I’ve read no memoir that moved me more” MIRANDA SEYMOUR

“The writing is always scrupulous . . . [a] compelling memoir” BLAKE MORRISON

“Beautifully written and utterly compelling” Sunday Times

“An original, probingly thoughtful memoir” EVA HOFFMANN

“Full of warmth, grief, curiosity, wisdom . . . highly original” New European

“An exquisitely told memoir” Spectator

“Beautiful, devastating” The Arts Desk

A poet’s memoir of his mother that flows backwards through time, and through a tumultuous period of European history – a tender and yet unsparing autobiographical journey.

In July 1975, Magda Szirtes died in the ambulance on the way to hospital after she had tried to take her own life. She was fifty-one years old. The Photographer at Sixteen spools into the past, through her exile in England, her flight with her husband and two young boys from Hungary in 1956 and her time in two concentration camps, her girlhood as an ambitious photographer, and the unknowable fate of her vanished family in Transylvania.

The woman who emerges – with all her contradictions – is utterly captivating. What were the terrors and obsessions that drove her? The Photographer at Sixteen reveals a life from the depths of its final days to the comparable safety of its childhood. It is a book born of curiosity, of guilt and of love.


In this quest to understand the enigma of his mother 's life and death, George Szirtes travels back from personal memory to deeper history, as he reconstructs his family's tragedy-darkened past . . . An original, probingly thoughtful memoir whose restraint only increases its poignancy and impact
In this extraordinary, hybrid book - part memoir, part history, part poetic journey - Szirtes re-makes the life of his mother, tracing her childhood in Europe's darkest period to her life in Britain after the Hungarian uprising. He brilliantly captures how sometimes it's those closest to us who remain the most mysterious.
A truly remarkable book about identity, image and memory. It is fiercely compelling.
Edmund de Waal, author of THE HARE WITH THE AMBER EYES
Magda Szirtes is intense, untameable, tantalising and compelling. George Szirtes is tender and astute in trying to understand her, percipient in analysing the enduring fragments of her life -- letters, tape-recordings, photographs, memories -- yet ever-aware of how little it is possible to know. The result is engrossing and profoundly moving.
Keiron Pim, author of JUMPIN' JACK FLASH
Unforgettably sad . . . Szirtes has made [his mother's] monument. It is a courageous and remarkable achievement. I've read no memoir that moved me more.
Miranda Seymour, Financial Times
A book full of warmth, grief, curiosity, wisdom, staggering anecdotes and a coming to terms with the vicissitudes of 20th-century history . . . [a] highly original telling of the author's mother's life and the heartrending events through which she lived.
Charlie Connelly, New European
Szirtes uses his poet's eye to build images and details that bring his mother superbly to life . . . [this] is a beautifully written and utterly compelling narrative.
Ian Critchley, Sunday Times
[An] exquisitely told memoir . . . By telling the story of his mother's life backwards Szirtes has performed a sort of conjuring trick . . . Not simply a memoir but a hybrid of history and biography interspersed with photographs, poems and several standout moments
Anne Sebba, Spectator
As isolated snapshots build into a family portrait, and a historical fresco, we grasp the wider picture . . . beautiful, devastating
Boyd Tonkin, Arts Desk
Like a film in reverse, this narrative structure not only reclaims a time of innocence and hope but also functions as a form of healing, an undoing of her pain.
Fiona Capp, Sydney Morning Herald
The writing is always scrupulous . . . Knowledge is partly invention, Szirtes says, memory is mostly invention, and 'the trick is to invent the truth.' It may be a trick but it's one he pulls off brilliantly in this compelling memoir.
Blake Morrison, Guardian
He works, frame by frame, through a sequence of ever-older photographs, employing her own chosen medium to interrogate the mystery of her existence, and the fallibility of memory
Ariane Banks, Tablet
Exceptional . . . There is much more to this scrupulously written memoir than I have been able to convey. There are photographs throughout the text, but those in the final pages are heartbreaking.
Paul Bailey, Literary Review
Exceptional . . . An act of love.
Paul Bailey, Literary Review.