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For those of you just joining us, you completely missed the first book in my march to madness. If you don't mind having the book spoiled for you (majorly), here are the links to my chapter-by-chapter recaps: Introduction, Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22. Now, let's go to the post-game report...

You might remember that one paragraph of the introduction to A Hungarian Nabob set off all kinds of alarms when I first read it.

I may add, in conclusion, that I have taken the liberty to cut out a good third of the original work, and this I have done advisedly, having always been very strongly of opinion that the technique of the original tale suffered from an excess of episode. This embarras de richesse would naturally be still more noticeable in a translation, and I am particularly anxious that "A Hungarian Nabob" should attract at first sight. Let this, therefore, be my apology to Dr. Jókai and, as I trust, my claim upon his forgiveness.
Remember, I'm wary of condensations (I read Don Quixote unabridged, dammit), but in this case it worked in another way, since some issues I might have with the text could possibly be written off to overzealous editing by Mr. Bain, the translator. Take the character of Mike Kis, who was excellently introduced in the lively chapter 3 and seemed to be developing into a major secondary character. After the initial build-up he almost completely disappears from the narrative, which was a major disappointment on my part. We're told by the narrator that he's John Kárpáthy's constant companion after the incident with the coffin, but we have to take the author at his word.

It didn't help my conspiratorial side that the lengths of the chapters were gradually shrinking, as if the editor got bolder in paring back the text as the story wound on. Sadly, I don't have an uncut text to compare with, so this is all just idle speculation.

Meanwhile, as Mike and the other secondary characters from the initial chapters fell away, Fanny's story launched and eventually consumed the book, with the (admittedly marvelous) villain Abellino as the thread that tied everything together. Maybe I haven't acclimated to the task at hand, but once I realized Fanny's story was going to be the main story, and her story was one of those stories, I got a sinking feeling. Especially when I got my first taste of the tone being used for that side of the story.

I eventually adjusted to my approach and found my own type of entertainment in Fanny's story...probably not the type of entertainment the author intended, but really, she thought she was going to Hell for reading a "fresh" note from a guy. Not for actually doing anything in the note (and seriously, all he asked was for her to leave the garden gate open after dark), just for reading. As it transpired, she also had a genteel version of that Jimmy-Carter-Playboy-interview lust in her heart, although she was properly ashamed of herself even if she didn't indulge any of her inner gremlins. So she wasn't completely unbearable, although modern readers without an overdeveloped sentimental streak would best read her inner torments with a healthy dose of snark...and there are plenty of chances to do that.

Once I made the necessary adjustments of expectation, I enjoyed myself quite a bit, but doggonnit, they told me this story was about a Hungarian Nabob! The Nabob was a fun guy, so it's a damn shame he didn't figure more into his own book. Unless he did. Damn you, abridged edition.

MVP of the Novel: Abellino, who truly earned his stripes as upperclass twit supreme, at most points being a monumental jerk and underhanded schemer just for the sheer joy of it. Bonus points for cursing the "n(-word)" Hungarian language, but not hesitating to ask for a sackload of Hungarian money. Spoken like a true carpetbagger.

Nagging Question: Some character points are approached head-on (Aunt Teresa is a Bible reading godly cat lady, and we find that out because we're shown the Bible, the moralism, and the cat), others are approached sideways (Fanny's sisters were whores, and we get to figure that out for ourselves because they always had money and didn't have either husbands or jobs). One point, however, eludes me: Griffard was a financier (loan shark, really), he was unsettlingly charming, and--here's the bit that made me wonder--he lived on the Ile de Jerusalem in Paris. Maybe this isn't anything, but was that Jokai's subtle way of saying that Griffard was a Jewish moneylender? If he was playing into the stereotype, he didn't beat us over the head with it, but as long as I'm second-guessing my reactions to the book, we might as well put this one on the table, too.

And now, the old book report question...Would you recommend it to a friend?: Yes. In the end, I really found myself enjoying the story...taking the previously-listed reservations into account, of course.

Edit on 14 June: I just realized that I left the most important question unanswered, seeing as how this is a blog about antique summer reading: Is this (still) a summer book? (By that, I mean "Could this pass as 'light reading' today for someone without a degree in literature?") I'd say "possibly"; once you look up what a "heyduke" is, it's a steady (if occasionally stiff) read with a little bit of everything, even if in the end the author (or the editor) shorted me on the stuff I enjoyed personally. There are sentimental and moralistic streaks throughout that might smack some modern readers around, but that's never been an issue with me if the author is good at his/her job, which Jokai was. Maybe that makes me a freak (as if that's the only thing that makes me a freak), but we're going to get that from a lot of these books anyway, so you might as well adjust your expectations accordingly.

Next: Well, you tell me. It's time to pick another book from the list, friends, and I'll be forced to do it myself if you don't.


  1. Anonymous said...
    The unabridged version has quite a lot of ancillary stories in the first part of the book about Paris and its big-city life.

    Those stories (whole chapters), while entertaining, have absolutely nothing to do with the main story, so the editor has probably done you a favor by shortening the book.

    It's nice you enjoyed the book, one of my favorites (I'm a sucker for the romantic part of it, especially the tomb-kissing ending, as opposed to you).

    Some other book (Sons of the stone-hearted man) from Jókai is actually obligatory reading in school in Hungary.
    Eric said...
    Thank you for filling in the blanks on the abridgements; it's good to know that I didn't miss anything important. The guy who wanted these books to "break" me is going to be so disappointed that Mr. Nisbet cut out the ornamental stuff. :)

    As for the romance, I guess I'm just a tough nut to crack when it comes to that type of story, but I'll agree that Alexander's scene at the tomb was a very effective way to wrap up a bittersweet subplot (even if I didn't say it in so many words at the time). It probably didn't hurt I've been an Alexander more often than I've ever been a Rudolf...

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