A Book of Memories A Novel

Péter Nádas; Translated from the Hungarian by Ivan Sanders with Imre Goldstein




Trade Paperback

720 Pages


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First published in Hungary in 1986 after a five-year battle with censors, Péter Nádas's A Book of Memories is a multi-layered narrative that tells three parallel stories of love and betrayal. The first takes place in East Berlin in the 1970s and features an unnamed Hungarian writer ensnared in a love triangle with a young German and a famous aging actress. The second, composed by the writer, is the story of a late nineteenth century German aesthete whose experiences mirror his own. And the third voice is that of a friend from the writer's childhood, who brings his own unexpected bearing to the story.


Praise for A Book of Memories

“Communist Eastern Europe has not usually been seen as a subject for Proustian reflection . . . But in A Book of Memories, Peter Nadas, one of Hungary's pre-eminent literary figures, has accomplished a remarkably interesting feat: he has transposed the novel of consciousness to the Socialist universe, and closed the gap between prewar modernism (inflected here by post-modern psychoanalysis) and Eastern Europe.”—Eva Hoffman, The New York Times Book Review

“A magnum opus . . . [Nádas] articulates erotic experience with surpassing precision and grace . . . There is great beauty to the writing.”—Susan Miron, The Wall Street Journal

A Book of Memories will endure as a great moral expression of the European crucible of public and private souls, genuinely worthy of Proust, Henry James, Musil, and Mann as an authoritative testimony to the intellectual and emotional lives of an epoch.”—The Seattle Times

“A vast, astonishing, reverberant novel . . . It is a comprehensive and all-comprehending book about politics, sex, art, history, psychology, mortality, and memory.”—Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe

“There is a wealth of accomplishment in A Book of Memories. It is an epic and immensely fertile exploration of contemporary history and sensibility.”—Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times

“The greatest novel written in our time, and one of the great books of the century.”—Susan Sontag

“Published in Budapest in 1985 (and later in several languages), this powerful autobiographical novel is Nadas's first appearance in English. In the tradition of Proust, he has composed a psychological work that celebrates the primacy of emotions, discriminating between shades of feeling and exploring the deepest currents of relationship among his characters along with their physical, sexual, and political aspects. A young, hypersensitive Hungarian writer recalls his uneasy Budapest childhood and his Seventies sojourn in East Berlin, where he worked closely with a famous, emotionally unstable actress whose sometime lover, a German poet, became the love of his life; interspersed are chapters from a novel he is writing about a 19th-century German writer whose passions and experiences mirror his own. This rewarding but demanding work, ideal for readers with the leisure and appetite for rich, intensive analysis and fine literary craftsmanship, is essential for all collections of significant contemporary literature.”—M. Anna Falbo, Villa Maria College Library, Buffalo, Library Journal

“An imposing novel of ideas closely related in spirit to the great fictional syntheses of Hermann Broch and Robert Musil, as well as to the autobiographical masterpiece that is its specific inspiration: Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Originally published in 1986 in Nadas's native Hungary, this big book offers a startlingly wide-angled view of a young Hungarian writer (never named) whose pursuit of artistic happiness and success is intricately counterpointed against his country's struggles with Stalinist communism, climaxing in the revolution of 1956. In the first of several separate narratives, the writer describes his troubled youth during the 1950s, focusing on his explosive relations with his pro-communist father, a state prosecutor who committed suicide in 1956 (as did Nadas's own father)—and also recounts his Bohemian lifestyle some 20 years later in Berlin, where he carries on love affairs with Thea, a temperamental actress, and also her lover, an equally mercurial poet named Melchior. A second story, which parallels the writer's own, is narrated by his fictional invention Thomas, the protagonist of a novel-in-progress set in Germany in the early 1900s. A third story is told by a boyhood friend of the writer's who happens to meet him in Moscow many years after their youth, and continues to think about the writer following the latter's death. His account contradicts the writer's earlier one—but it's made clear to us that the contradictions may be explained by the differences in personality and outlook of these two narrators. Nadas's brilliant book is an epic of uncertainty, a dazzling fictional demonstration of the relativity of our efforts to understand ourselves and our world. To that end, the author and his counterparts suggest a series of ingenious discriminations between the unexamined life led by the European bourgeoisie and the involuted self-consciousness—and, by implication, self-righteousness—of artistic responses to it.”—Kirkus Reviews

“First published in Budapest in 1986 after a five-year struggle with censors, this remarkable novel uses three narrators to tell the story of a young Hungarian writer tormented by his past: a childhood during the Stalinist 1950s; rebellion against his father (like Nadas's own father, a state prosecutor driven to suicide in the wake of the 1956 Hungarian uprising); and an adult, homosexual love affair in 1970s East Berlin. The principal narrator is the young writer himself. The second is his invented alter ego, the aesthete hero of a novel-in-progress set in turn-of-the-century Germany. The third narrator is a childhood friend of the young writer, reunited with him by chance in a Moscow hotel. These three voices give Nadas a rare purchase on what is perhaps his deepest subject, the fate of the bildungsroman, the European novel as perfected by Proust and Mann, in a ruined Europe where the cultivation of soul has come to seem not only hopeless but absurdly beside the point. As the main narrator complains: ‘the continuity of recurring elements in time can be checked only with the notion we call speed; and that is what history is, nothing more; that is my own story; I made a mistake, and I kept making mistakes.’ These ‘mistakes’ make for a series of brilliant, sustained inquiries into the varieties of sexual, artistic and political passion, inquiries thoroughly steeped in the author's nostalgia, not just for a more dignified moment in history but for the private events that turn out only afterward to have determined the course of the narrators' lives. In the end it is this nostalgia that links Nadas most clearly with his modernist masters: ‘I plundered my own time, and wasn't displeased with the looted treasures of an imagined past, for it stopped me from being overwhelmed with the present.’”—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Péter Nádas is the author of the novels A Book of Memories, The End of a Family Story, and Love.  He lives in Gombosszeg, in western Hungary.
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  • Péter Nádas; Translated from the Hungarian by Ivan Sanders with Imre Goldstein

  • Péter Nádas is the author of the novels A Book of Memories, The End of a Family Story, and Love.  He lives in Gombosszeg, in western Hungary.
  • Péter Nádas Barna Burger