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Katalin Street

Paperback / ISBN-13: 9780857058478

Price: £10.99

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“Extraordinary” New York Times

“Quite unforgettable” Daily Telegraph

“Unusual, piercing . . . oddly percipient” Irish Times

“A gorgeous elegy” Publishers Weekly

“A brightly shining star in the Szabo universe” World Literature Today

In prewar Budapest three families live side by side on gracious Katalin Street, their lives closely intertwined. A game is played by the four children in which Bálint, the promising son of the Major, invariably chooses Irén Elekes, the headmaster’s dutiful elder daughter, over her younger sister, the scatterbrained Blanka, and little Henriette Held, the daughter of the Jewish dentist.

Their lives are torn apart in 1944 by the German occupation, which only the Elekes family survives intact. The postwar regime relocates them to a cramped Soviet-style apartment and they struggle to come to terms with social and political change, personal loss, and unstated feelings of guilt over the deportation of the Held parents and the death of little Henriette, who had been left in their protection. But the girl survives in a miasmal afterlife, and reappears at key moments as a mute witness to the inescapable power of past events.

As in The Door and Iza’s Ballad, Magda Szabó conducts a clear-eyed investigation into the ways in which we inflict suffering on those we love. Katalin Street, which won the 2007 Prix Cévennes for Best European novel, is a poignant, sombre, at times harrowing book, but beautifully conceived and truly unforgettable.

Translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix


A gorgeous elegy for the joy and the life once shared among three neighboring families in prewar Budapest...This is a brilliant and unforgettable novel.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Szabó's quietly captivating novel excavates the tangled history of Hungary's capital from the portentous moments before the German occupation to its suffocating postwar regime...A visceral, sweeping depiction of life in the shuddering wake of wartime.
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In Katalin Street, the past is never dormant, never settled. The past is an open wound, a life force busily shaping an increasingly bewildering present. In describing Henriette's plight, Szabó writes: 'From the moment she arrived she had been left to work out the rules and the customs of the place entirely by herself.' In this extraordinary novel, the same could be said for the living.
Laura van den Berg, New York Times Book Review
[Katalin Street] is a brightly shining star in the Szabó universe, offering us a glimpse of Eastern Europe at a time when we need to be reminded of what happened there more than ever
Andrew Martino, World Literature Today
This is a love story and a ghost story . . . From the height of war through to Stalinism, the 1956 Hungarian uprising and its 1968 reprise, Szabó moves us across the decades.
Katherine Waters, The Arts Desk
[U]nusual, piercing, and - given Hungary's current political climate - oddly percipient
Catherine Taylor, Irish Times
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
Laura Waddell, The Skinny
Katalin Street's effect on me was so extraordinary that at first I couldn't decide what was most extraordinary about it: its gentle unpeeling of the tragic lives of the characters, or its gentle unpeeling of tragic life in general . . . quite unforgettable
Julian Evans, Daily Telegraph
Her fiction shows the travails of modern Hungarian history from oblique but sharply illuminating angles . . . Szabo summons the cosy, closed world with a lyrical, quicksilver touch that makes the thuggish intrusions of despotic power all the more wrenching.