This post is a scheduled post. By the end of today, 25 October, I would be leaving Budapest and heading to Vienna. It seems apt to introduce you a book I read before I embark on my travel titled, Budapest.
José Costa is a Brazilian writer, except he is a ghost writer. José Costa attended the Anonymous Writers’ VCognress in Istanbul and is on his way back to Rio when a bomb scare on his Lufthansa flight forces him to spend a night in Budapest.
A man of language and wordplay, José instantly develops a connection to the city and the Hungarian language. His appetite whetted, he seizes a chance to renew his acquaintance and begins to concoct a new reality.
This new reality includes a Hungarian woman called Kriska, who is José’s teacher, critic and his lover. He lives hands to mouth, and describes Budapest warmly but it’s the Hungarian language that attracts the lion’s share of José’s admiration.
He learns the language fervently, works as a secretary to a literary society, dabble with poetry in Hungarian language “rumoured to be the only tongue in the world the devil respects.” (Struggles with the language and the people.
However back home in Brazil, José is married to a successful journalist, Vanda and has a son whom he can’t communicate with. With a business partnership and his marriage in trouble, the heighten frustration of other people claiming credits for his best work, Buarque convey a very distinct doldrum and weariness of José’s regular life and the need for him to escape from it all. When José found the chance to live in a totally different milieu, one he is fascinated with, he jumps on it.
José’s life is not all rosy in Budapest. At one point, his bank account is frozen. He was regarded condescendingly as an immigrant who can’t master the local language. When life pressures pushed José against the wall, with the threat of deportation as a last straw, José left Budapest for Rio.
When I picked up the book I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect surrealism.
Buarque dissolve the borders between people, places and, indeed, paragraphs. Buarque’s intention was to blur the boundaries between the two countries and put his characters in a realm in two different countries with different sets of partners in body and mind. I read José’s life in both Budapest and Rio De Janeiro and constantly both compete for José’s allegiance and also mine. The novel is poetic and sensual.
“Perhaps it was possible to replace one language with another in my head, little by little, discarding a word for every word acquired. For a time, my head would be like a house undergoing renovations, with new words being hoisted up through one ear and the rubble being lowered down through the other”.
As happens with many a miserable artist, my creative vein had been slashed in the prime of life. I do not need to live as a recluse or in disguise, because being anonymous, and ant an artist stripped of glory, i would be safe from public ridicule.
And as of zero hour she (Vanda) would be surprised to rediscover in me that passionate young man, his heart always on his sleeve, ready to externalise his finest sentiments. Because right at the beginning of our marriage, when I was still a modest writer, I was undoubtedly, for her, an amazing husband. But as I perfected my literature, i naturally began to relax in my treatment of Vanda. So much devotion to my craft, writing and rewriting, correcting and polishing texts, pampering every world I put on paper, left me with no good words for her. I no longer felt like manifesting myself in her presence, and when I did, it was to utter absurdities, platitudes, wishy-washy sentences with syntactical errors, unfortunate word combinations. And if at night, in bed with Vanda, enchanting words popped into my mouth, I contained them, hoarded them for future practical use.
Buarque is a musician, and one that writes beautifully as well. Buarque’s craftsmanship and imagination is vivid and mesmerising, and his work deserves the attention and appreciation he received. I can’t help but to think that it is Buarque’s own love between the two continents that spurs him to write a story about José living in two different lives in two different countries and it is very interesting that Buarque chose Budapest. From all that I read about Budapest, it is said to be a magnificent city conquered by so many foreign rulers that infused the city with glorious architecture and beauty on both Buda and Pest shores of the river Danube. I hope as I leave for Vienna today, the city leaves a significant imprint on me as it did to José Casto.
The novel is a pleasant surprise.
What I like most about the book:
I like the blurring of boundaries between José’s reality and dreams, not knowing which reality is being offered. I like to read about books about books, about writers. I like the language and word play. Introduction of many Hungarian words which I don’t think I will be ever to pronounce it. középiskola. bizalomgerjerztö. Whatever, anything more than 4 syllabus, eludes me.
What I like least about the book:
I’m not sure why the protagonist José kept walking into danger, unnecessarily. I’m not sure if I like the ending. The offer that came out of the blue and changed José’s life is abrupt and unbelievable, but if that’s what Buarque wants it to be, so be it.
I think I should read books from South American writers or books about South America more often. Have you read any? What would you recommend besides Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Roberto Bolano?
Hardback. Bloomsbury 2004. [183 pages],[Rio De Janeiro and Budapest], finished reading at 19th October 2010. Originally published in Portugese, translated by Alison Entrekin.
About the writer:
Francisco Buarque de Hollanda (born June 19, 1944 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil), popularly known as Chico Buarque, is a singer, guitarist, dramatis, writer and poet. He is best known for his music, which often includes social, economic and cultural commentary on Brazil and Rio de Janeiro in particular.
Buarque came from a privileged intellectual family background—his father Sérgio Buarque de Holanda was a well-known historian, sociologist and journalist and his mother Maria Amélia Cesário Alvim was a painter and pianist. He is also brother of the singer Miúcha. As a child, he was impressed by the musical style of bossa nova, specifically the work of Tom Jobim and João Gilberto. He was also interested in writing, composing his first short story at 18 years old and studying European literature, also at a young age. One of his most consuming interests, however, was playing soccer, beginning at age four, which he still does today. Though he was born in Rio de Janeiro, Buarque spent much of his childhood in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Italy.
He performed music throughout the 1960s as well as writing a play that was deemed dangerous by the Brazilian military dictatorship of the time. Buarque, along with several of his fellow musicians, were threatened by the government and eventually left Brazil in 1970. He moved to Italy again. However, he came back to Brazil in 1971, one year before the others, and continued to record albums, perform, and write, though much of his material was not allowed by government censors. He released several more albums in the 1980s and published three novels in the 1990s and 2000s, all of which were acclaimed critically.
Notoriously press-shy, he might even see himself as a kind of José Costa, someone who wants to write just for the sake of it, not needing fame to be happy.
Chico wrote this book without having visited Budapest, merely with the help of a dictionary and a tourist guide of that city. Disregarding that, the results were wonderful, something the reader will be able to appreciate even in Budapest’s translation to English. Buarque worked alongside very closely with the translator for the English edition.
“I’m an amateur” said Chico Buarque in an interview about “Budapest”. “It’s the same with songs. I’m not a professional. Yet somehow I manage to get away with it”.