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The End of a Family Story
by Peter Nadas
ISBN 0374148325 / 9780374148324 / 0-374-14832-5
Publisher Farrar Straus Giroux
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In A Book of Memories, Péter Nádas explored Stalinism and post-Communist Eastern Europe through the eyes of a novelist. The Hungarian author's first novel, The End of a Family Story, also features a storyteller at its heart, but this time it is a young boy's rebellious, irreverent grandfather. "Grandpa used to tell me lots of stories. But not fairy tales, real stories," the unnamed narrator recalls. The grandfather tells about his years in the army during World War II, about his youth ("Shall I tell you the story of the suit?"), and often he draws on the Bible for material, mixing psalms and scripture into tales of fairies and fishermen. Fractured Hungarian history, bizarre genealogies--his stories are marvelous but disturbing.
But these yarns are by no means the only stories at work in Nádas's novel. At its center is the narrator's relationship with his elusive, undemonstrative father, a Stalinist functionary who betrays friends and family, only to be branded a traitor by those he worked for in the end. What makes The End of a Family History so powerful is Nádas's use of the child narrator as a filter for the adult experience of Communist Hungary. People die, people are arrested, people disappear--events that adults may rationalize but that children find simply incomprehensible. Written in chapter-long paragraphs and brimming with fantastical imagery (octopuses that swim through the air; a fish in a bathtub; a secret garden) Nádas's novel is heavily symbolic, psychologically acute, and infinitely compelling. --Margaret Prior [via]