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25 May 2018

The Writer, the Protagonist and the Secret Chronicler – The Challenge of Narration in the Roman-fleuve Danubius Danubia by Thomas Kabdebo

"It is thanks to this carefully considered and consistently applied narrative technique that Danubius Danubia comes together as such a complex geographical, historical and cultural unit: an encyclopaedic roman-fleuve about the entire Danube region that encompasses many national narratives and many centuries."


The principal recurring motif of our book, and one of its protagonists, should be the Danube. It should feature encyclopaedic knowledge not only about the history of the Danube region, but also its ethnography, its flora and fauna, its geography. The Danubian landscape should be presented as a cultural entity transcending individual localities, state boundaries and nations. Furthermore, as the story of the family unfolds over almost a thousand pages, the trilogy of novels should make it clear that this integral cultural landscape could only become what it is thanks to the bounteous variety of its constituent parts. The family saga, however, should also be connected to our age, so its backbone should tell the life story of a protagonist who is our contemporary. The events of times gone by should also be related personally and experientially; the effect upon the reader should not be one of leafing through the pages of a volume of history, but of gaining glimpses inside secret diaries that have remained unread for generations. On top of all this, tempting though it may be to interpret the storyline played out in the second half of the twentieth century in such a way, it must be obvious that this work is not an autobiographical novel!

A long list of criteria, yet Danubius Danubia fulfils them all with aplomb. Formulating the concept for the novel, however, would presumably have represented just the second greatest task to vex Thomas Kabdebo as he planned a roman-fleuve extending to almost a thousand pages. Whom should the author summon to “speak” in order to enliven events that happened a hundred and fifty or two hundred years ago? Whom should he choose to guide the reader through more distant periods in time, including those predating the earliest records of language? And when the truth of the Danube region is composed of a multitude of, at turns, mutually contradictory “local” truths, which are difficult for any individual to grasp in their entirety due to the constraints on perspective imposed by geographic, cultural and temporal limitations, then in whose voice should this truth be pronounced? In brief, how to make it clear that the protagonist and Thomas Kabdebo are not one and the same? A long list of authorial dilemmas, from which it can be deduced that devising the sophisticated, labyrinthine plot for his novel must have posed less of a challenge to the author of Danubius Danubia than selecting his narrative strategies.

The roman-fleuve was written by three of us: Tamás Kabdebó, then the author, and above and beyond all else, the Secret Chronicler”, the author of the trilogy explained in a study entitled “Trinity in Danubius Danubia.1 This statement is noteworthy for how stridently Kabdebo distinguishes the “author” from himself; this is all the more interesting in the light of how the trilogy was received, for among the reviewers of Danubius Danubia there were quite a few who could not resist the temptation to (mis)interpret the work as an autobiographical novel. Paradoxically, this misconstrual seems to have been motivated precisely by familiarity with the author’s earlier works, for autobiographicality had hitherto played a prominent role in Kabdebo’s written œuvre. As Béla Pomogáts points out in his written analysis of the trilogy, Kabdebo had already written his own autobiographical novel about the Revolution of 1956 in his novella titled Minden idők (All Times), first published in London in 1978; moreover, the author frequently resorts to autobiographical details in his shorter prose works.2 Pomogáts, however, maintains that it would be erroneous to list Danubius Danubia among these works, for whereas “the protagonist of the earlier novels was in almost every instance the writer himself, and the nature of narration was always characterised by being in the first person and autobiographical”, in Danubius Danubia the “protagonist, József Dunai Szendrő, is not identical to Tamás Kabdebó, as is revealed throughout the story, although certain biographical motifs naturally arise that bear comparison with the life of the storyteller”.3 Sándor Olasz, in his review, also stresses that although “the viewpoints of the writer, the narrator and the hero often merge together, Kabdebo very consciously goes about creating a distance”.4 Kabdebo’s own life – which we can learn about from his autobiography5 matches that of the protagonist József Dunai Szendrő only in that they both attend the student protests in Budapest in 1956. During the few days of the Revolution, however, the paths of author and protagonist take separate directions, and while examples do exist of common situations in their respective destinies – such as prison and exile – these are not unique to the two of them, but could be described as typical aspects of the lives of many of their compatriots born in the first half of the thirties.

Kabdebo does not rely solely on the reader’s biographical knowledge to underline his point that Danubius Danubia is absolutely not an “autonovel”,6 but also on the text itself. The author does so using a narrative masterstroke that is not averse to self-irony, by including himself in the work in innumerable parts of the text, following precedents from music and the visual arts.7 Let us now take a look at the ways in which Tamás Kabdebó, the character, turns up in the roman-fleuve by Thomas Kabdebo, the author.

Kabdebó’s very first appearance immediately makes it plain that it would be wrong to identify the main protagonist – Dé, that is, József Szendrő – with the author of the novel (thus in itself ruling out any autobiographicality). The following scene is played out in the first part of the roman-fleuve, after one of the students at a meeting held at the university around the time of the Revolution talks about Hungary’s lack of significant resources of energy: “‘What about uranium?’ (The question came from the second row. The questioner was a young know-all with a brush-cut. recognised in him his team-mate, the breaststroke swimmer Tamás Kabdebó. Wish hed keep his mouth shut, he thought)” (58).8 A few pages later, after the massacre on Kossuth Square, Kabdebó photographs six of the victims (61).9 Later, at the “Danube Days” seminar, Dé makes a tape recording of a lecture delivered by Tamás Kabdebó, who has been sent to the conference in Germany in place of the recently unwell László Cs. Szabó. This episode not only underlines once more that the author and the protagonist are not identical, but also pays homage to the older fellow writer and friend of the author of Danubius Danubia (216). In Neuburg, while is lying in hospital, recovering from the attempt on his life carried out by the Hungarian secret police, Sadness [Búbáj, his paramour] receives a telephone call from Kabdebó, who is calling Szendrő, who worked as a bookseller before his accident, to enquire after a copy of Oszkár Jászi’s book on the United States of the Danube (423). In the concluding volume of the trilogy, the author cites a letter to The Times, in which Tamás Kabdebó proposes that, alongside the Stars and Stripes, the flag of the United Nations should also be planted on the Moon (607). Titus Groza, the Roman Catholic priest from Romania (and nephew of Prime Minister Petru Groza), who plays a key role in the third section of the roman-fleuve, remembers Kabdebó from his time as a medical student in Budapest (724). Kabdebó is later transported across the Danube in a punt by Dé’s son, Gyuró (754). Years (and two chapters) later, the two meet again: Tamás Kabdebó and his brother, Péter, are eating fish soup on the sands of Dunahalom when they are approached by Gyuró and his wife Bia, who ask them to sign the petition of the Danube Circle against the Bős-Nagymaros Hydroelectric Scheme (804).

Thomas Kabdebo therefore consistently includes himself in his novel as an incidental character. In this way, the author emphasises that the paths of and Tamás Kabdebó only cross on exceptional occasions, and that any talk of autobiographicality in Danubius Danubia would be wrong. However, the role of the novelist’s device does not end here. Let us consider that if Kabdebo played only an occasional tangential part in the action of the novel, then – being unaware of the events taking place within the story not only would it be impossible for him to be the protagonist, he could also not assume the role of immediate, homodiegetic narrator. Furthermore, Kabdebo seems bashfully anxious never to portray himself in his guise as a writer, but, for example, as a fellow breaststroke swimmer, as a history student, or modestly asking for passage in Gyuró’s boat. In the essay already referred to, Kabdebo the author pointed out the “civilian” nature of Kabdebó the character: “among the trends of our age, the post-modern has attempted to eliminate the author, while my own modesty attempts to instate the everyday, pre-authorial persona of the author.”10 This inevitably prompts the question: if not Kabdebo, then who is the narrator of the trilogy of novels? If he can only know about the destinies of Kabdebó and his novel-based contemporaries from the outside, at most through hearsay – and is therefore, as a homodiegetic narrator, not even qualified to relate contemporary events –, then to whom does the author entrust the task of divulging what happened many generations, or even centuries beforehand? Whom do we have the honour of hearing from, on so many occasions throughout the roman-fleuve, as its author?

The author is the fellow who, through persistent collection, utilised hundreds of books, maps, engravings and articles to write the book of the Danube, and then donated the entire collection to the József Katona Library in Kecskemét”,11 Kabdebo stated in the study entitledTrinity in Danubius Danubia. But this author is not alone. Lest we forget, in the central section of the roman-fleuve, in the overture to The Waters Seethe, Kabdebo reels out a lengthy list of his own literary forebears, from the as yet illiterate storytellers of yore, through the author of King Saint Stephen’s third legal code, Queen Beatrice’s Hungarian teacher, the editor of the Guary Codex and the chaplain of Archbishop Pál Tomori, all the way to a Transcarpathian poet of the twentieth century, which winds up the thread of his imaginary, or more precisely, his spiritual genealogy. In fortuitous and exceptional cases, the works of these belletristic ancestors have survived for posterity as has Gábor Szendrő’s letter to his wife, written as a courier for the Hungarian army in March 1849, the autobiography of Gáspár Szendrő, his Jacobin forefather, and the diary of József András Blackwell, which is discovered by Gyuró hidden in a nook in the roof of Dugonics’s house. These narrators do not exclusively report on the happenings in their own lives, but also shine a light – sometimes allusive, sometimes more detailed on the stories handed down by family legend. This multiple narration, which makes use of old texts that were lost and then found, not only provides repeated grounds for reinterpreting the family’s past,12 but also enables stages of the narrative that took place a century and a half or even two centuries ago to be presented to the reader as recounted by narrators speaking from personal experience.

However, making use of experientiality and of personal viewpoints poses yet another challenge in the narration of the trilogy. To quote once again from Pomogáts’s review, Danubius Danubia is not merely a novel about József Dunai Szendrő, nor simply about the Hungarian youth of 1956, nor is it a romantic chronicle of Hungary in the 19th and 20th centuries, but of the entire Danube region, which records, embedded within its epic content, the history and culture of the region and its folk traditions, not only Hungarian, but also Serbian, Romanian, Austrian and Bavarian. It immortalises the history and spirituality of Homo danubicus who, like József Szendrő, is capable of seeing historical conflicts with impartiality, and who can approach the ethnic and cultural mosaic of the region from a comprehensive perspective.”13 After all, the cultural entity of the Danube landscape is made up of a mosaic of often mutually contradictory national and regional narratives. Unlike the canvases of Impressionist painters, however, the image of the diversity of the Danube region consists not of colours flowing into one another, but of a complex of discrete mosaic squares, which only reveals itself in its entirety when observed from a proper distance.14 The viewpoints of the individual characters, which are ultimately determined mostly by their national and cultural backgrounds, make it impossible to obtain sufficient distance due to the personal and experiential nature of the narrative, and this means the events must be portrayed in the novel from the perspective of the whole Danube region, as a historical, geographical and cultural unit. The writer of the roman-fleuve therefore appears to have just two choices: either he renounces the desire to be “pan-Danubian” and write a Hungarian Danube novel, or he sacrifices personal opinion and experience on the altar of completeness. Alternatively, however, he can come up with a tour de force of the kind invented by Thomas Kabdebo, who includes the Secret Chronicler as one of the narrators of Danubius Danubia.

The first appearance of the Secret Chronicler in the trilogy alludes to a famous poem by Miklós Radnóti titled Nem tudhatom… [translated into English variously as “I cannot know” or “How others see…”]15: At that distance the water in the cutting of the dike seemed now just a dark mass, the boat carving its submissive body as a lone aircraft did the even softer air of the sky.”

Perhaps the Chronicler was sitting in that, looking down from above, seeing the landscape as a map and the Danube a whipcord on it but – like Radnóti – imagining the clods too, so often soaked in blood. When he looked upwards from his seat into the vaulting sky he could see the clouds bedeck its mass, darkening, growing greyer as the evening wore on. If the Secret Chronicler looked into himself he saw the Christ-face, the lord-peasant-face of his father, bathed in sweat, saw the horse before the plough, the bogged-down tractor, and because he knew every tiny least little thing, like the guardian angels entrusted with the defence of destiny, who have received their epoch-making knowledge from the Lord God, he could hear in that landscape, at that time, the groans of women in labour, the prayers of old men, and read like Morse the sharp slapping of the Danube on the sides of the ferry as it protested against the wind. The Chronicler’s watchful eyes chirped in woodland cicadas in the branches of the mast-high birch-tree, croaked in tree-frogs at their tips, but the dragon-fly too was his emissary that quivered on the top of the ripe ear of corn” (11–12).

The next time the Secret Chronicler is mentioned, the reader can be left in no doubt that this narrator and the writer know completely different things, and see the same reality from different perspectives: “The writer will permit himself from time to time, within reason, to resort to startling coincidences, taking care that, in accordance with the expectations at the end of the century, these have no decisive bearing on the course of events. Reality, however, which the Invisible Chronicler knows better – and either conveys or does not – will construct a veritable net of apparent coincidences around the flesh-and-blood figures that move in the tectonic region, and the threads of this net will seem, depending on our view of them, to be either unexpected or hints of regularity” (74).

The fact that the Secret Chronicler as a narrator is separate from the writer, and not an “omniscient” avatar of him, is demonstrated most clearly in instances where there is a difference of opinion between the two of them. After István Igrity is caught attempting to flee to Yugoslavia, he is saved from more severe punishment by Party Secretary András Csócsér and Council Chairman Ignác Veigel, who actually commit perjury by saying that they sent the accused across the border to the collective farm in Bezdán with instructions to bring back bearings, which were in short supply in Hungary, and which could not be obtained through official channels because of Yugoslav bureaucracy. With regard to what motivated Csócsér and Veigel to this good deed, however, the writer and the Secret Chronicler take differing views: “So there is a grain of decency left in this worthless world, and the writer twirls his moustache in satisfaction.”

The Secret Chronicler, however, has greater insight into the souls: the two leaders, risen as they were from the people (albeit from an all but exhausted strain), who had brought about the required favourable circumstances by even more devious cunning were more afraid of the anger to be expected from the people around them than of confessing to an offence which they had not committed” (157).

The writer and the Secret Chronicler, therefore, know different things, which is already enough reason to realise they are not identical. The Chronicler knows details about the past which mere mortals can only deduce. When finds a fragmentary inscription on the bastion in Smederevo, he has no idea what the letters VIS could once have been part of, and while the writer speculates what the whole text might have said, the Chronicler knows precisely how the writing ended up on the wall: “Even at the discovery of these three letters Dé’s heart gave a throb, but he could not have guessed what the writer believes that he knows, that originally the three letters had formed part of PULVIS CINIS ET NIHIL… (The Secret Chronicler would have added further that the inscription had been carved neither by a hero fighting the Turk nor by a humanist of old, but by a Latin teacher visiting the place at the turn of the century)” (185). Similarly, in connection with the illustration found in the fourth volume of Conte Marsigli’s Danubius Pannonico Mysicus, showing the capture of a sturgeon, the writer only imagines that the scene took place on the Lower Danube, while the Secret Chronicler knows thatbefore the siege of Buda a 300 kilogramme sturgeon was caught at Esztergom, which Count Marsigli, military engineer to Eugene of Savoy, must have seen there” (239–240). When Gyuró and his mother are leafing through the Mlinarik family album, the Secret Chronicler recognises members of past generations who now lie beyond the memories of the present-day characters in the novel: “Lujzi had taken the photograph in the early thirties, and none of them knew who the two men might be. If, of course, the Secret Chronicler had been able to speak he would have whispered in Gyuró’s ear ‘The oarsmen guests of Mlinarik the miller, your great-great-grandfather on your mother’s side, are your grandfather on your father’s side and his batman. In the picture in the frame on the next page Aunt Lujzi is sitting at the window of their house in Komárom, with embroidery in her hand, staring out of the window’ (339). All the Secret Chronicler needs to do is glance at someone’s hands in order to recall the entire life story of the character in question, as in the case of Gáspár Szendrő, the Magician: “If those hands could speak, opined the Secret Chronicler, who played now the part of a Greek god, now that of prompter, and at other times sucked, in the form of a bee, the nectar of the acacia or was transformed into that mighty walnut tree, the most daring branch of which brushed against the porch. If they could speak they would tell of the reins of broken horses, the twisting of the steering-oar, the construction of astronomical observatories and the stroking of female curves” (448).

The knowledge that is based on the personal experiences of the characters in the novel relates to the knowledge available to the Secret Chronicler in the same way as the part relates to the whole: “While the Secret Chronicler, with a biospheric smile of wisdom after the event, of which all we can see is its reflection, organises and sets in place so well and with such convincing logic the past that is present as the chaotic and mainly inscrutable present, the writer, moving step by step and line by line – envying the painter who reveals his canvas all at once – throws up willy-nilly all possible alternatives, in the hope that the choice from among the options of imitated reality will give the impression of authenticity, not merely turn out to be such. (What we write or describe is nothing more than a tiny fragment of life seen through a tube of rolled-up newspaper)” (261). In the closing chapter of the book, Kabdebo writes that “the Secret Chroniclers of the Danube region […] are joined [by] Béla Kabdebó and Ernő Tinusz of Baja and Ernő Bajai and László Wohl of Pest” (812). The writer of Danubius Danubia suggests, therefore, that the knowledge and experiences of individuals, after their lives are over, go on to enrich the Secret Chronicler, whose body of knowledge is made up of all the present and past inhabitants of the Danube region.16 The narration of the Secret Chronicler comprises, as it were, the sum total of all possible narratives of the Danubian landscape.

Consequently, the Secret Chronicler, unbiased in matters of politics, history and ethnicity, sees and knows the entire Danube region as a single unit, even taking into account all its historical processes and synchronous variety, observing things from a standpoint above changing times and national narratives: “The Secret Chronicler’s apprentice hiding in the beech-wood cross took all this in with satisfaction. As far as he was concerned (and the same went for the Almighty) the adherents of all and any faiths in the Danube region were pleasing (horribile dictu, agnostics too), as were inhabitants of any state, frogs croaking in any language or dialect and cicadas chirping. He suspected that mankind did not seek after celestial truth but rather their worldly rights, and wished to be not heroes but survivors. The Secret Chronicler’s memory, the nostalgia of a molecule of a regional unity, had to think back to the Pax Romana in order to be able to believe in compulsory agreement and cosmetic harmony as the life-style of a historical period. Since then discord, drought, ebb and flow, floods, rainfall, storms, thunder, massacres and deals done had ruled the spirits of the majority of the inhabitants of the region, although they could have taken the example of the sunbeams which warmed impartially every citizen from the Black Forest hills to here, the fist-sized golden button on the church in the convent of St Anne on Orsova hill” (776). Kabdebo himself, in the study entitled “The Witness in the Novel, in My Novels”, also emphasises the objectivity of the Secret Chronicler, who “is not the author, not Thomas Kabdebo, with his opinions and prejudices, as certain critics imagine, but a distillate, an experiment in summation, which has to be acceptable to all sides”.17 In other words, to quote the pertinent passage from Trinity in Danubius Danubia: He is impartial, even in local and retrospective history. He finds the Bavarians, the Austrians, the Romanians and all the other peoples along the Danube just as kind as the Hungarians. He has no say in the justice or injustice of borders. All he is biased about is that he does not like the phenols from the factories, the spent oil from the diesel boats, and the dams that monstrously mutate the Danube landscape.”18

Totalling over 800 pages in its original edition, the trilogy titled Danubius Danubia itself actually constitutes the definition of the Secret Chronicler. Yet if we had to choose the excerpt that most concisely synopsises the nature of this unique and unrepeatable narrator – for only in this work can he (be made to) operate –, then the following provides the most apposite description: “we search for an answer to the question Who is the Secret Chronicler? [...] Well, he is the Genius Loci, the spirit of the place, right in the middle of the Danube lands” (326). Imre Péntek has also identified the philosophical hinterland underlying the Secret Chronicler, spotting the inspiration in the Hungarian writer Béla Hamvas:The findings of Béla Hamvas are truly relevant to the trilogy:Place must not be confused with space… space has a number, place has a face… Place not only has physics, but also metaphysics, and is not only spectacle, but also genius.’ This cascading roman-fleuve – citing Hamvas with a certain amount of poetic licence – pays homage to the genius of the Danube region.”19

Narration in Danubius Danubia is therefore the product of the “tripartite conference” between the writer, who is contemporaneous with but not identical to the protagonist, the “literary ancestors” of the past, and the omniscient genius loci: Although there is no anthology to quote all together writer, clerk and historian, they are the real and spiritual ancestors, together with those quoted by them and all such as they drew into the circle of their affection. [...] In moments of inspiration they, the writer and the Secret Chronicler are conjoined in a fruitful trinity, so that the text may take the fullest sense of the Secret Chronicler’s (the secret chroniclers’) ethereal-material and chemical changes, and observe the quantum variations in his energy(333). The success with which Danubius Danubia fulfils its self-imposed criteria depends largely on the triple narration used so consistently and consciously by Thomas Kabdebo. In this triple narration, the writer is a limited narrator, who relates the events of the present, in chronological order, from the youth to the death of Dé, in addition to which he incorporates within his own narrative stories about past events related by the homodiegetic narrators of incidents that happened long ago. In the mean time, the all-seeing narrator of the trilogy of novels, the Secret Chronicler, portrays events from the perspective of the genius, as defined by Béla Hamvas. It is thanks to this carefully considered and consistently applied narrative technique that Danubius Danubia comes together as such a complex geographical, historical and cultural unit: an encyclopaedic roman-fleuve about the entire Danube region that encompasses many national narratives and many centuries.

Translation by Steven Kane


 

Notes:


1 Tamás Kabdebó, “Hármasság a Danubius Danubiában. A szerző 1998. szeptember 22-én Miskolcon tartott előadásának rövidített szövege.” [Trinity in Danubius Danubia. An abridged transcript of the lecture delivered by the author in Miskolc on 22 September 1998.] In: Új Holnap, January 1999, 90.

2The hero of the novel is more or less modelled on the character and life story of the author himself, and in its evocation of the days of ’56, it provides one of the richest and most authentic accounts of the Hungarian Revolution. Personal recollections on a similarly epic scale also appear in the author’s recently published memoirs, titled 33, in which Tamás Kabdebó describes the ‘adventurous’ life he has led, through his memories of Baja, Budapest, London, Rome, Cardiff in Scotland [actually Wales, N. H.], Georgetown in Guyana, Manchester, and finally Maynooth in Ireland (a total of thirty three homes).” Béla Pomogáts, “Dunaregény. Kabdebó Tamás: Danubius Danubia.” [Danube Novel. Tamás Kabdebó: Danubius Danubia.] In: Tiszatáj, February 1999, 76–77.

3 Béla Pomogáts, [Danube Novel…], op. cit., 77.

4 Sándor Olasz, “Árapály. Kabdebó Tamás folyamregénye.” [Ebb and flow. The roman-fleuve of Tamás Kabdebó.] In: Forrás, June 1995, 94.

5 Tamás Kabdebó, Életút [Path of life]. Argumentum Kiadó, 2007.

6 As the author avowed in a study of his (written before the publication of his autobiographical Path of Life), “I have always been haunted by the repeated criticism that I write ‘autonovels’, but only my first novel, Érettségi [Graduation] was like that.” Tamás Kabdebó, “Tanú a regényben, regényeimben.” [The witness in the novel, in my novels.] In: Pannon Tükör, 2003, 3rd quarter, 6.

7 In the essay titled “The Witness in the Novel, in My Novels” Kabdebo mentions numerous examples from the associated arts in which the author composed himself in his own work. “Those who are more initiated in music are aware that several composers, such as Bach and Shostakovich, wrote themselves – that is, their names – into certain compositions. In the case of Bach, it appears as the sequence of notes B.A.C.H. [In German notation. The English equivalent would be: B.A.C.B. Translator’s note], while Shostakovich similarly composed, not his whole name, but at least the SHOST (sic!) part. [In fact the sequence is D.S.C.H., from the German transliteration of his name Dmitri Schostakowitsch (D.Es.C.H; in English: D.E.C.B.Translator’s note.] I can give two Bach references: The Art of Fugue, BWV 108019 Contrapunctus, and Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, bar 109003.” In The School of Athens, the fresco in the Stanze di Raffaello in the Vatican, “the Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are painted with portraits of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael’s own likeness”. Michelangelo Buonarroti painted himself into The Last Judgement, and in the beard of Moses in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome he concealed a thumb-sized bas relief self-portrait. Tamás Kabdebó, [The Witness...], op. cit., 6.

8 Translator’s note: Page numbers are from the Hungarian edition. The quotations are taken from the unpaginated e-book translation by Bernard Adams, published by fapadoskonyv.hu. At times, when dictated by necessity, I have taken the liberty of changing one or two words in the excerpts lifted from Mr Adams’s otherwise excellent translation.

9 The author of the trilogy gave a clear answer to the question of autobiographicality in connection with the scene described here: “Tamás Kabdebó was a witness to actual major historic events. The detail in the novel when and where Tamás Kabdebó, after the bloody massacre of 25 October 1956, photographs six slain protestors lying in a room-sized area on Kossuth Square is real. His role in the novel is episodic and biographical, in an emphatically non-autobiographical novel.” Tamás Kabdebó, [Trinity…], op. cit., 90.

10 Tamás Kabdebó, [The Witness....], op. cit., 13.

11 Tamás Kabdebó, [Trinity…], op. cit., 90.

12 For more about this, see the study titled “Családtörténet folyamatban, újraíródó magánmitológia. A történelem mint dinamikus rendszer és megjelenítésének írói eszközei Kabdebó Tamás Danubius Danubia című folyamregényében” [Family history in progress, private mythology being rewritten. History as a dynamic system and the literary devices used to present it in the roman-fleuve Danubius Danubia by Tamás Kabdebó].

13 Béla Pomogáts, [Danube Novel…], op. cit., 80.

14 This may perhaps encapsulate the difference between European multiculturalism and that of the United States of America. Whilst American multicultural identity is the product of amalgamating ethnic diversity, European multicultural identity is defined by nations living among and beside one another, and by the dynamic of ethnically based cultures constantly exerting a mutual effect on each other, which also brings about regional identities. As the Slovakian–Hungarian writer and literary historian Zorán Ardamica expresses it in one of his studies: “Ever since the Roman Age, Europe has lived in ethnic-based multiculturalism, which was natural until ideas about the nation state began to emerge”. Zorán Ardamica, “Szubkulturális hibridizmus, avagy a ‘Nagy büdös kisbetűs élet’ (Az Optikai tuning multikulturális megközelítése)” [Subcultural hybridism, or “Bloody life in small letters” (The multicultural approach to optical tuning)]. In: Irodalmi Szemle, January 2013, 37.

15 Translator’s note: Dame Judi Dench, no less, reciting a translation of the poem in 1976 can be accessed on the internet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-au00cItu3o (last retrieved on 12 April 2018).

16 The fact that the Secret Chronicler, by virtue of existing timelessly and eternally, lies beyond both birth and death, is magisterially expressed by Kabdebo when he writes that, at the very moment of Dé’s death, his grandchild, the offspring of Bia and Gyuró, is conceived further down the Danube. The author highlights the synchronicity by employing variations of the same passage in both parts of the text: “The Secret Chronicler, who takes note of things both molecularly and spiritually but usually writes the outcome on the surface of the Danube, said that… AT THIS VERY HOUR AND MINUTE A NEW LIFE HAS BEEN CONCEIVED IN THE FOREST OF NAGYMAROS” (809), while a few pages later, we read: “The Secret Chronicler, who takes note of things both molecularly and spiritually but usually writes the outcome on the surface of the Danube, said that… AT THIS VERY HOUR AND MINUTE A LIFE HAS BEEN EXTINGUISHED IN A BOAT MOORED BELOW POZSONY” (811).

17 Tamás Kabdebó, [The Witness…], op. cit., 12.

18 Tamás Kabdebó, [Trinity…], op. cit., 90.

19 Imre Péntek, “Sorsváltozatok a Duna mentén. Kabdebó Tamás: Danubius Danubia” [Variants of fate along the Danube. Tamás Kabdebó: Danubius Danubia]. In: Somogy, April 1990, 188.




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HUNGARIAN REVIEW is published by BL Nonprofit Kft.
It is an affiliate of the bi-monthly journal Magyar Szemle, published since 1991
Publisher: Gyula Kodolányi
Editor-in-Chief: Gyula Kodolányi
Editorial Manager: Ildikó Geiger
Editorial office: Budapest, 1067, Eötvös u. 24., HUNGARY
E-mail: hungarianreview[at]hungarianreview[dot]com
Online edition: www.hungarianreview.com

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