On Thursday October 31st, the 2015 International Man Booker Prize winner, László Krasznahorkai was in Brussels at Passa Porta House of Literature to talk about not only about the Dutch translation of his latest book, Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming, published by Wereldbibliotheek, but also about his artistic sensibility.
Born in 1954 in the Hungarian town of Gyula, Krasznahorkai’s work began to garner attention in 1985 when his novel, Satantango, achieved important success in Hungary and other European countries.
His long and winding sentences are somewhat reminiscent of the style of German author W.G. Sebald, who once wrote about Krasznahorkai’s book, The Melancholy of Resistance: “The universality of vision rivals that of Gogol’s Dead Souls and far surpasses al the lesser concerns of contemporary writing.”
During his conversation in Brussels with literary critic Marnix Verplancke, the Hungarian author explained how he found a certain “overconfidence” in short sentences. “Long sentences feel more democratic to me. There’s so much freedom in writing a sentence that spans pages and pages.”
His work has often been classified as obsessive, sometimes disturbing. The New Yorker critic, James Wood, placed Krasznahorkai’s pen next to those of José Saramago, W. G. Sebald, Roberto Bolaño, though he pointed out that the Hungarian’s was “perhaps the strangest.”
On Thursday, Krasznahorkai spoke about the effect writing and taking the time to observe the world has had on him. “As time goes by and I feel its heavy passage weighing on my back, the only way I find to approach other human beings is through empathy. That’s it.”
In his latest novel, Baron Wenckheim dies after a series of tragicomic misunderstandings, and the disillusioned population revolts. Havoc reigns in the city and the sole survivor is an idiot who has escaped from the asylum. He climbs a water tower and begins to sing. But whose voice is it?
“I continue to be obsessed with that question,” Krasznahorkai said. “When you read a book and ask, ‘Who is speaking?’ Is it the author? Because when I write I hear voices. I am just the conduit. So who is really speaking? I don’t know.”
The translator of Krasznahorkai’s books into Dutch, Mari Alföldy, attended the event and spoke about some of the challenges she’d found in translating the latest book. “Syntactically, Hungarian is a lot freer than Dutch,” she said. “In Dutch sentence structure has a rather strict order, which is not the case in Hungarian. I had to look at each sentence — very long sentences — and then try to piece together all of its parts in the necessary order in Dutch.”
After the the panel discussion, the author signed copies of his books and had brief conversation with some of his readers, Hungarian and international alike.