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.