Author: Zuckerman, Jeffrey
Date published: October 1, 2011
Péter Nadas. Parallel Stories. Trans, lmre Goldstein. Parrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011 . 1152 pp. Cloth: $40.00.
Péter Nadas already enjoys a formidable reputation for A Book of Memories, but his extraordinary and staggering Parallel Stories places him in a new rank of writers entirely. In describing people and lives in mid-twentieth-century Budapest and Berlin, Nadas operates on the principles of parallelism and chaos in structuring his work; the result is so open-ended in plot and scope that it almost tests readers' mental capacity. Dozens of characters (the most prominent including Gyongyvér, Dohring, and Kristóf) come, go, and recur in German and Hungarian locales from the 1930s to 1989, connected by the most slender of threads; although several storylines are sustained over larger numbers of chapters, there are no proper beginnings, nor does anything ever quite end. Nothing is treated in a usual manner: the murder that Dohring comes across in the opening pages is almost but not actually solved many chapters later; in a single chapter, Lady Erna experiences both the reality of a cab ride and her memory of nursing her baby simultaneously; and Kristóf 's chapters switch from third to first person as he goes from his nighttime sexual activities on Margit Island in Budapest to his daytime journey and meeting with his family. In these disparate places and times, however, the objective author remains a constant, and Nadas is nothing if not a physical writer, from specifying the architecture and history of Budapesti buildings to describing genitalia in minute detail during a hundred-page sex scene. The wide canvas, political and historical significance of the novel's events, and thorough attention to both mental and physical states all recall grand nineteenth-century epics. But Péter Nádass nearly sociological objectivity and gentle refusal to hazard connections and tie up loose strings place him squarely in the contemporary era. Consequently, watching the fine and subtle web of linkages form over the course of reading over one thousand pages of his precise and dense prose is, in a word, breathtaking. [Jeffrey Zuckerman]