Discovering a New Favorite: Gyula Krúdy

May 29, 2014 at 3:46 am Leave a comment

Part of my quest to read as many unread books on my shelves as possible before moving.

Gyula KrudyAt a certain point in the life of any reader, and I’m not sure when, the era of easily finding new favorite authors ends. Indeed, my childhood and adolescence were so positively peppered with new-found favorites that I can’t even remember when and where I acquired most of them. I wonder if this is somehow tied into how much there is to learn and discover in general when you’re young. Amidst everything being new and splendid, it’s easy to imagine how you’d be pummeled with new and splendid authors, too.

However, the last decade or so (referred to by some as “adulthood”) has been marked by a sharp decrease for me. Off the top of my head, I can think of pretty much every new favorite author I’ve discovered in that time and when it happened—Anne Fadiman (2005), Susanna Clarke (2007), Neil Gaiman (2010), and so on. These are not just good writers of good books. These are favorites. These are kindred-spirit-level good reads that speak to me on a whole level apart from entertainment or pastime.

And, sadly, they’ve become few and far between. Thus, as time goes on, it is ever more delightful and precious to find new favorite authors. Whenever I do, I find myself aglow with excitement at such a rare treasure, almost incredulous at how immediately and how much I love and connect with his or her work.

In the last two weeks, I’m delighted to report that I found a new one—Gyula Krúdy.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about him biographically, but I’m a big fan of reading new authors blindly. So I have been deeply enjoying Krúdy’s work despite knowing very little about him. All the book jackets herald him as a precursor to the contemporary magic realism movement (Rushdie, Garcia Marquez, etc.) as well as a capturer of fin-de-siècle Hungarian culture. Not being a scholar of either topic, I can’t really confirm or deny such claims, but I can confirm that his stories are transportive.

As best I can describe it, his style crosses Henry James with Lord Dunsany. And maybe some Julian Barnes (and, yes, probably Gabriel Garcia Marquez, too) thrown in for good measure. The stories I’ve been reading are grand and imaginative, but also touching in their exploration of the individual and society. Krúdy’s ability to transport himself, and the reader along with him, into any character’s mind, from a teenage heiress to a dying aesthete, is remarkable. Not to mention his amazing evocation of place!

The Adventures of Sindbad

Krúdy came to my attention entirely by chance whilst ambling through the Hungarian literature section of Butler Library before I left New York. My wide-ranging book club had chosen László Krasznahorkai for its May read and I got a little distracted on my way to pick up The Melancholy of Resistance. For some reason, Krúdy’s The Adventures of Sindbad drew my attention and it came home with me along with the Krasznahorkai.

I started reading Sindbad as I tried to finish all my library books before leaving the city, but only got about one-third of the way in before being forced to return the book and move. Sindbad is the very imaginative telling of various stories, all out of time and place, from one man’s life. It’s inspired more by Scheherazade than Sinbad, I think, but the title character takes his name from the traveling Arabian hero and, so far, his “real” name has yet to be disclosed. It’s a lovely read and one particularly well-suited to subway rides as each chapter/story is fairly self-contained.

After having to return Sindbad to the library before I was done with it, a quest to buy my own copy resulted in me taking home Krúdy’s Sunflower instead. This, in turn, led to confirmation of his New Favorite Author status. I spent my first few nights on Nantucket before I had unpacked any sort of technology reading Sunflower in a gigantic and somewhat run-down historic house. The book begins thusly:

The young miss lay abed reading a novel by the light of the candelabra. She heard faint creaks from another part of the townhouse: was someone walking in a remote room? She lowered her book and listened. The hands of the clock were creeping up on midnight like some soul climbing a rock face.

My introduction to Sunflower could not have been more perfect in terms of place if I had tried. Sunflower

Sunflower is essentially a love story, but it’s more an exploration of various characters and their inner monologues than a straight fairy tale (and the ending is about as un-fairy-tale-ish as you can get). Krúdy seems more concerned with the inner life than necessarily explaining each part of the plot and it actually works beautifully. By the end of it, I had ordered The Adventures of Sindbad online and was actively scouring the local library for more of his work.

So right now I’m finishing up Sindbad and then I’m tremendously excited to explore the rest of his canon, too. Imagine! A whole new and prolific author to explore from soup to nuts! So often new favorite authors are contemporary, so you’re left to wait in painful anticipation for years in between new releases. Finding a new favorite author with a whole backlog to explore makes me feel a bit like Howard Carter: upon discovering Tutankhamen’s tomb, he was asked, “Can you see anything?” To which he famously replied, “Yes, wonderful things.”

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Entry filed under: Classics. Tags: , , , , .

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