Iza’s Ballad


This one is desperately sad, and it stays with you.

The Door should have prepared me for more the direct emotion, the weight of history, the unflinching look at how the characters – people more like you and me than we’d care to admit – are really thinking and feeling, and the tragedy underlying it all. It’s so Hungarian! I found myself saying out loud.

When her husband dies, Ettie has everything she could wish for: a loving daughter, Iza with a great career as a doctor in the city, who takes care of all the moving and packing and sets her up in her nice modern apartment. There’s even a cleaner – she doesn’t have to lift a finger. After decades of rural poverty and even shame, she should finally be able to relax in comfort. She can just be a cosy little old lady, sunning herself on a Budapest park bench, wrapped up in her fine new winter coat and hat.

Except she has never felt so frozen, raw, lonely, and even invisible. Does her daughter really care about her at all, or is she only another ‘problem’ to be solved? Can Iza listen to what her mother is trying to tell her?

Iza’s Ballad tells the story of a mother and daughter, the father and husband they lost, and the secrets they can’t forget:


Magda Szabó’s was a poet first, and this translation is by another poet, George Szirtes. Reading Iza’s Ballad, in which the ‘model communist’ is the most relentlessly heartless character of all, it’s not hard to see why Szabó’s had to stop publishing in the 1950s. 2017 is the 100th anniversary of her birth, and the tenth of her death – a good time to start reading her again.

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Posted in books, gender, history, translation

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