Review: Febroj (Don HARLOW)


by NEMERE István

Budapeŝto: Hungara Esperanto-Asocio, 1984. 131p.

reviewed by Don HARLOW

originally appeared in The ELNA Newsletter, Jan-Feb 1986

   It's rare -- writes Eva Tofalvi in "The Role of the Personal Factor in Esperanto Literature" (Fonto, Dec. 1981, pp. 29-34) -- to find a group of Esperantist authors living in the same place and encouraging each other in their work; the only example she can give is the so-called "Budapest School" of poetry, which flourished around the magazine Literatura Mondo in the late twenties and thirties. Similarly rare is the individual author who is known both through Esperanto and his native language; Marjorie Boulton in England and Sandor Szathmari in Hungary are the two examples who come to mind (another example, recently brought to my attention, is Yeh Jun-jian in China -- who, however, wrote his earliest works in Esperanto but later abandoned it in favor of Chinese, English and other languages).

   It appears from the evidence -- and I begt pardon of those folks in Hungary if I am wrong about this -- that what we have today is a new "Budapest School" of Esperanto literature, this time of prose. Among its practitioners we might safely include Tofalvi herself, her husband Oldrich Knichal, Julian Modest, Bernard Golden, and Istvan Nemere. Interestingly enough, of these five only Tofalvi and Nemere are home-grown. Modest is an expatriate Bulgarian, Knichal a Czech, and Golden -- whose stories often betray his background in their themes -- is an American.

   Nemere is the same sort of rarity as Boulton and Szathmari: an Esperantist author who has also been successful in his native language. Even more; where Boulton first wrote in English, then in Esperanto (Szathmari's evolutionary path is, at least to me, less clear), Nemere first appeared in print in Esperanto, almost twenty years ago while living in Poland, and only later branched out into writing in Hungarian. So far he's had five novels and one collection of short stories published in the International Language. All of them betray the professional at work. Febroj is no exception.

   I have previously reviewed two of his works in the ELNA Newsletter. Sur Kampo Granita is a study of conscience and -- perhaps -- absolution; La Blinda Birdo treats (to my mind, pessimistically) the problem of liberalism versus tyranny. Febroj investigates, as Nemere himself says ("Interview with Istvan Nemere", Literatura Foiro, June 1984, pp. 7-9), love, hate and jealousy.

   The story really develops as two parallel stories, separated in time by almost exactly one year -- a system Nemere has used before (Sur Kampo Granita). In the earlier story, the unnamed protagonist, an author living isolated in a remote village, is reviewing and enjoying an unfolding affair with the unsatisfied wife of an engineer. By the time of the second story, the woman is dead of apparent suicide, and the author, who is sure that she was murdered by her cuckolded husband, is carrying out a campaign of persecution leading up to a little murder of his own. The two stories neatly converge, reaching their -- in both cases only semi-anticipable -- climaxes together.

   Nemere is proving to be a master at keeping the salient details from the reader until they are needed. Both stories are almost pure train-of-thought; and even though the first story simply consists of the memories of the author (although told in present tense), the author succeeds in remembering details as they occurred, not out of order. For instance, for more than half the book it is never clear whether or not the two learing characters ever slept with each other (for those who like to peek ahead to erotic passages, the answer lies on pp. 87-90); yet the eventual reason for Anna's death is intimately bound up with the answer to this question. Indeed, not until the very last part of the book could we ever be really certain that Anna did not, as the police officially decided, do herself in.

   Nemere's command of the language, too, continues to improve. I'm not talking now about grammatical details -- he's always had those down pat -- but about his descriptive style. And -- pace the naturalist school -- he does this without overreliance on excessive neologisms, using mainly the traditional remedies proposed by Zamenhof.

   About the book itself, in its technical presentation, I would prefer to follow my mother' old dictum -- "If you can't say something good, don't say anything at all." But the reader does deserve a little bit of warning. The printing is generally dark and easily legible -- not always the case with HEA publications -- and, for a paperback, the glue seems to be relatively strong. The girl on the cover -- very pretty, and intense in a Hungarian way in the reproduction that appeared in the Literatura Foiro article -- is heavily marred by excessive graininess. The book comes complete with numerous typos, not of the great classic variety ("Mi renkontis ŝin ĉe la stacidomo kaj ĝoje premis ŝian mamon") but simply annoying. Most common, and most noticeable, are several cases (no pun intended) in which adjectives don't agree with their accompanying youns. By and large, Nemere deserves a lot better. HEA may not be able to afford a better cover, but certainly a quick run-through of a set of galley-proofs would have resolved the problem of excessive typos.

   All in all, a book I recommend very highly.

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