2000 - 2007 Books in Translation Chunkster

The Book of Fathers by Miklós Vámos

The Book Of Fathers Translated from the Hungarian by Peter Sherwood

Five words from the blurb: Hungarian, family, generations, gift, epic

The Book of Fathers is an epic piece of historical fiction. It follows twelve generations of first-born sons through 300 years of Hungarian history. The book has been a bestseller throughout Europe, but has had less success here in the UK. This is a shame because it is the sort of thing that fans of historical fiction love.

The Book of Fathers is very readable. It is packed with period detail and has been incredibly well researched. I immediately bonded with the characters and enjoyed learning about Hungarian history. I was especially grateful that everything was explained in sufficient detail for me to understand what was happening, despite knowing little about the country’s history.

Unfortunately as the book progressed I became frustrated by the way the years slipped by so quickly. New characters were continually introduced and I began to lose track of who was who. Each chapter concentrated on a new generation and it began to feel more like a series of short stories. I wish that it had contained a fewer number of sons; enabling us to see each life in greater depth.

Szilard showed him the pocket timepiece and the medallion he guarded with his life. Yanna gave a squeal of joy when the face of her firstborn stared back at her from the gold locket. Richard Stern’s hook of a hand pulled Szilard towards him and the old man’s wet kisses fell upon the boy in a shower. This is how it is with us, though Richard Stern, moved: We keep losing members of the family, only to get them back again in the course of time.

Each son was also blessed with a clairvoyant ability. I was initially worried that this might interfere with the realism of the text, but these concerns proved unfounded as Vámos seemlessly blended the magical realism with the historical fiction. I think those who enjoy reading contemporary fairy tales will appreciate the folklore involved in this story.

I’m pleased that I read The Book of Fathers as I now have a greater knowledge of Central European history, but I’d only read another Vámos if I knew it concentrated on a smaller period of history. Recommended to those who love historical epics, especially when they’re sprinkled with folklore.


I read this for Stu’s Eastern European Month. Head over to his blog for more recommendations from this part of the world.




2012 Books in Translation

The Finno-Ugrian Vampire by Noémi Szécsi

The Finno-Ugrian Vampire Translated from the Hungarian by Peter Sherwood

Five words from the blurb: Hungarian, grandmother, vampires, traditional, independence

The Finno-Ugrian Vampire is set in Hungary and focuses on Jerne, a young woman who has just found a job in a small publishing company. Her 200-year-old grandmother is disappointed – she wanted Jerne to abandon her modern ways and become a fully-fledged vampire. I accepted this book for review because I was looking for a spooky Halloween read and was interested in how an East European would re-invent the traditional vampire story. Unfortunately this book contained a lot of Hungarian satire that went over my head, but that is due to my inadequate knowledge of the country rather than a fault of the author.

The book was light and easy to read with many sections that made me smile.

A herd of rats was frolicking on the carpet, while two of the bigger ones were fighting it out over a large bone in the kitchen.
‘I hope you don’t mind them taking refuge here. The exterminators could be here any moment and I had to make sure they were somewhere safe,’ Grandma said by way of welcome, badly and without a hint of an apology.
‘Grandma, you have frightened the caretaker’s wife half to death with your creatures.’
‘I have the right to keep whatever household pets I want.’
‘Right. Well, you go and explain to her that these are your pets.’
‘She is too stupid to understand.’
‘It’s you who are stupid. Not everyone delights in seeing slimy rats fattened on cat food popping up from the toilet bowl. She could have dropped dead from the sight.’

The black comedy continued with a string bizarre scenes, including one in which Grandpa is put through a meat mincer.

Unfortunately things went downhill and I found myself increasingly unable to understand the jokes. There were a lot of references to aspects of Hungarian society I knew nothing about (eg. Magyars & Komi) and even when I did recognise something (eg an artist or composer)  I didn’t feel I knew enough to appreciate the humor.

If you are familiar with Hungary and its culture I think you’ll love this book, but I’m afraid it wasn’t for me.