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They were counted.The Transylvania Trilogy. Vol 1. (Anglais) Relié – 31 mai 2013

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Revue de presse

'This epic Hungarian novel, absorbing both for its exploration of human nature and its study of the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire ... weaves social and political themes into Banffy's powerful tale' --Daily Telegraph

'A genuine case of a rediscovered classic. The force of Banffy's enthusiasm produced an effect rather like that of the best Trollope novels - but coming from a past world that now seems excitingly exotic' --Times Literary Supplement

'Fascinating. He writes about his quirky border lairds and squires and the high misty forest ridges and valleys of Transylvania with something of the ache that Czeslaw Milosz brings to the contemplation of his lost Eden' --W. L. Webb, Guardian --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Présentation de l'éditeur

Shooting parties in great country houses, turbulent scenes in parliament and the luxury life in Budapest provide the backdrop for this gripping, prescient novel, forming a chilling indictment of upper-class frivolity and political folly, in which good manners cloak indifference and brutality. Abady becomes aware of the plight of a group of Romanian mountain peasants and champions their cause, while Gyeroffy dissipates his resources at the gaming tables, mirroring the decline of the Austro-Hungarian empire itself

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4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A beautiful and tragically overlooked masterpiece 11 juillet 2014
Par Dan Harlow - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
Imagine an entire nation overflowing with people who completely and totally misunderstand everyone else around them. No matter what you say it will be interpreted in the worst possible way and absolutely counter to what you really meant. On top of that, add in the fact that should you try to be serious about something, should you try to get a point across to a large group or attempt to 'better' a situation that seems out of control or corrupt, you are immediately teased, poked fun of, laughed at, and not taken the slightest bit seriously.

Now do all that in Hungarian, a language nobody outside of Hungary can hope to comprehend, and put that nation in the middle of a geographical tinderbox of ethnic diversity, mistrust, and at the crossroads of division where east meets west, old meets new, and more powerful neighbors squeeze in tighter ever year. Only then can we hope to understand the sadly comedic history of Hungary and why she always seemed to pick the wrong side of a war to fight on.

The title of this book - and the whole series which is called 'The Writing on the Wall' outside of Hungary - gives us our most important key to understanding what we are about to read and experience in this novel. The Writing on the Wall is from the Book of Daniel in the Bible and has become an expression for being able to see how events are going to unfold before they happen. Yet what we tend to forget from the story in the Bible is when the writing on the wall appeared to King Belshazzar it was unreadable. King Belshazzar had to call in an interpreter to make sense of the words "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin". So even though the writing was right there on the wall for everyone to see, nobody knew what the heck it meant.

And that's the sad joke Bánffy is all too painfully aware of when he wrote this beautiful and tragically overlooked masterpiece.

The novel begins in 1904, the year the Hungarian Parliament building was completed by an architect who went blind before finishing the project. Over the coming years that take place in this the first book of three everyone in that building goes figuratively blind. The political situation in Hungary is a mess, factions who favor their alliance with Austria fight with those who want nothing to do with Austria, and factions within those groups fight with each other.

One would wonder if perhaps this was Austria's plan all along: to divide and conquer. However, the Hungarians are far more adept at dividing and conquering themselves than the Austrians could ever hope for.

It's important to take a quick step back and say that this novel is first and foremost a political one even though it does not seem so. Miklós Bánffy has created a work of art in an attempt to explain what went wrong in Hungary - or might even systemically be the problem with Hungary for all of her troubled history - during the years leading up to WW1. Each character, though wholly original, fleshed out, and rarely cliched, does serve a larger role that explores the many facets of Hungarian culture at that time in history. And what is genius here, what makes this novel a masterpiece of fiction that can only be rivaled by War and Peace, is that Miklós Bánffy never forces the issue. He lets these characters live and breathe and surprise us and while they may not rise to the level of psychological realism that Tolstoy found in his great novels, Bánffy has a stronger grasp of ALL the people of his country, ALL of Hungary, and especially his province of Transylvania.

Tolstoy's one weakness was that he never could really write a character from a lower class than from himself. Tolstoy, try as he might, pray as he might, work as hard in the fields as he might, was never able to get inside the mind of a peasant. And we should be lucky he wasn't able to either, because had he never longed to be a hard working, simple, plain, struggling human being, we never would have got the great works of art he left behind. His art was his struggle to be a better, more humble person.

Miklós Bánffy, unlike Tolstoy, did understand people of a different class than his - especially the poor. He understood without even thinking about it how the most senior politician thought and behaved, how the nobility behaved, how young women behave, and how peasants behave.

In one scene we get a series of events between the lady of the house, her butler, a young serving girl, and one of our main characters, a socialite named Laszlo. Over the course of this particular chapter we learn (through some clues from earlier in the book) that the lady of the house has put all her household trust in her butler. That butler, we learn, abuses the staff and forces the young maids who work under him to have sex with him. These young women get pregnant by him, and he forces them out into the street by blaming a third party. This young woman, we learn, cannot go home because of her situation but also because of the trust that had been placed in her by her family to find work. She is shamed not only because she is pregnant out of wedlock, but because she is no longer even employed. And the blame goes to our main character, Laszlo, who had only used her as an intermediary to deliver a message to the women he loves who is the daughter of the lady of the house.

Now all this might seem a bit complicated and even a bit dramatic, but what Bánffy is doing is constantly giving us a close look at his society, at the culture of his beloved country. These are the people he loves and he loves them all, good and bad of them. The fact he understands them AND can write so well about them is a gift that has been left to us but that has nearly been forgotten.

Miklós Bánffy is an interesting historical figure. He, like Tolstoy, was nobility. In fact the Bánffy's are some of the most ancient and were one of the most powerful families in all of Hungary and Transylvania. He was a politician who was involved in many of the most important moments in history and he was an artist.

After WW1 Bánffy retired (somewhat) from politics and focused mainly on his writing and this is when he wrote these novels. He was looking back to a time when his countrymen had been so preoccupied with their own silly affairs, with money, power, self-satisfaction, glory, that they missed all the warning signs that the world around them was going to hell. And his novel is also a reaction to what he saw going on around him as he started writing with the rise of Hitler and his country once again choosing the wrong side of another world war.

He writes, "The feast had been prepared so knowingly that it seemed to Laszlo that everyone present ate and drank more voraciously than usual and chatted with more hectic vivacity, as if they were driven to enjoy themselves while there was still time."

Yet all around there are hints of decay and neglect or unsettling surprises. A fish that normally is served with bones is somehow served without bones in it, dirty towels lay on the floor where others had used them to dry off, a servant is far more muscular than expected when his arm is grasped. Yet nobody wants to say anything about all this. Nobody wants to be the person who points out any irregularities because they will be mocked. The few who do speak up are washed up old drunks who fall over and urinate themselves while crying for old Hungary.

One character, a successful and respected gambler, almost completely communicates with his monocle. When he makes up his mind about some affair, when he has decided on how things will be settled and seen, he imperceptibly twitches his eye to allow the monocle to drop from his eye as a sign that affairs are over and that 'that is that, gentlemen!'. By choosing to impair his vision, he judges how things will be seen.

How Bánffy manages to pull this off is quite a feat and makes reading this novel such a pleasure. His best talent is in handling all the different characters. In the scene with the maid I described above, we do not get the point of view of only one character or an omniscient narrator, but rather Bánffy allows the characters to orbit each other and when one comes close to the other we immediately yet effortlessly switch points of view. We go from the lady of the house and what she is thinking, to the butler, to one of the upper maids, to the poor maid who is kicked out and then on to Laszlo, with whom the chapter began.

Time, too, does not always flow in one direction.

In another scene we learn that one character has been engaged to the former lover of another. We then jump back a week to tell how this was arranged, then go forward to a party where we meet up with the character who has been spurned by this news but now from the point of view of the other woman who then tells us how all this was put together a few days before.

The effect of all this jumping about is that Bánffy builds a world in which life is happening all the time, not just when we are reading that particular page.

Our other main character, Baliant (who is a near stand in for Bánffy), is trying to better the lives of the people who live on his family's land (sounds like Tolstoy, no?). Yet every time he goes back into the mountains to meet with these people he is thwarted by events that have been going on while he was far away in Budapest. Just because the noble land owner is away does not mean life suddenly stops and Bánffy is constantly using the back and forth of time and the orbiting motion of the intersecting characters to give us a greater sense of a larger world, a world in conflict as well as of beauty.

But is this novel nostalgic?

Nostalgia can be a killer because it is a dishonest emotion that colors reality and takes us out of real events and real people's loves. Nostalgia is false because it never happened and it can cheat a reader of learning something important about the world we live in and about who we are as human beings. Nostalgia is a longing for a return to a time that never existed. The world he writes about most certainly did exist, and so much of it was rotten.

This is not a nostalgic novel.

Bánffy paints Hungary with all the colors of nature, he lets us listen to all the sounds of the horses and the birds, "Outside a nightingale sang in almost crazed ecstasy", and even smells - one scene describes a poor peasant boy standing in a room filled with the smell of sawdust as the child eats a ripe apple. Color is his most used descriptor, be it the cushions in a room or in Parliament, the blues of the distant, floating mountains, or even "the purple darkness of desire".

All this might seem overly nostalgic, too, however, let's not forget that to this very day we can go see the uniform Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in and see his red bloodstain still on his uniform. It's still there 100 years later.

And like that assassination which took place in the very empire Bánffy is writing about, the past he writes about is not something anyone would be nostalgic for. Bánffy, though he loves his nation, knew that he and his countrymen did not see or interpret the writing on the wall. He is not nostalgic to return to a time where so many suffered, where just off stage men like Gavrilo Princip were starving and angry and ready to kill to make a change in their lives.

Bánffy was all to aware of the suffering of that time, and though he would have loved to have remained a gentle noble with all his lands - the Nazi's destroyed his family castle because Bánffy attempted to get Hungary to switch sides in WW2 and join the Allies - he was well aware of the pain of all the people of his country and he is not nostalgic for any such thing.

Bánffy has written a warning for all of us to be more aware of the people around us, the cultures we must learn to get along with, the people in our lives whose lives we effect for good and for bad, sometimes without even realizing it or knowing they are also influencing us, even behind our backs. He, like Daniel in the Bible, has translated the writing on the wall and this novel is his interpretation of what was written for Hungary right before WW1.

I must add that I believe this novel to be one of the greatest works of literature ever created. This novel, for me, stands next to War and Peace, Moby Dick, and Ulysses and it deserves to be read by every person alive. Yet like the literal Writing on the Wall, few people have seen it or will ever know about it.

And perhaps that's the way it should be. Most people are plenty happy going on with their lives and not concerning themselves with the greater problems of the world because to be one of the few who can read the writing on the wall means you are probably still powerless to do anything about it.

Bánffy paid for not reading the writing on the wall when, in his 70's, he watched the Nazi's tear down his family home.
13 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Complacency breeds Destruction 25 novembre 2009
Par Jon L Albee - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Wow. Here's something special.

I must admit that I was quite reluctant at first to engage this weighty piece of literature, fearing a never-ending parade of balls, operas, theatre and foxhunts described in minute detail, in a long eulogy to the old days of the Hungarian aristocracy. I was surprised to find that this book is exactly that, but it's told with such sensitive human insight and philosophical density that the reader can't help but feel at least a bit sympathetic.

While the setting is omnipresent in the book, the characters make it world-class literature. The essential thesis here is that, ultimately, the complacency afforded a luxurious and enormously inward directed life can only end in demise. Too much luxury, too little concern for what lies "outside," too much comfortable insularity presents all-too-tempting opportunities for those less fortunate. Rome, Russia, the United States, Austria-Hungary... take your pick. If you forget that you're not alone, you're sure to be reminded in the end.

Banffy tells this story allegorically through the two protagonists; sons of the nobility and cousins to each other, who are both doomed despite their vastly differing personalities. How many questions these two men present! Civic pride and engagement is not enough. Is solipsism really an escape? Is being in a position of responsibility enough to control your immediate community, or even yourself? Is peace always transient?

Read this masterpiece and be prepared to deal with issues like this. Ask yourself, "Who's knocking on the door now?"

A novel of manners, it takes some time to gather traction. Give it that time and the story sneeks up on you. It should make you think about where you're headed.
20 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 a terrific historical trilogy 12 mai 2008
Par Russell Pittman - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I agree completely with the 3 readers who have already reviewed this trilogy -- it is really excellent. I would expand on 3 points already touched upon:
1. The trilogy is absolutely 1st rate in conveying the historic atmosphere of the time -- the slow, inexorable fall into war of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the 1st decade and a half of the 20th century. Historical events are interspersed into the personal action of the novel really well, as Balint's parliamentary duties require him to keep up with, and react to, the latest international developments.
2. I can't think of another book that does as well at the nuances of courtship and the general interactions of the sexes. Accidental touches, displays of skin, words or silences that mean much more than they seem -- all this is done extremely well. Perhaps the only exception is the perfection of the coupling of Balint and Adrienne every single time they meet -- though of course overall their relationship is very far from trouble-free.
3. It is true that the reader need not try to remember every character -- Banffy is very good at reminding us about just enough of the background when a secondary character makes a later appearance. But for those reading all 3 volumes, I might suggest adding to a previous reviewer's list the characters of Laszlo's mother and the men in her life. She, and to some extent they, have some importance in the 3rd volume.
By the way, if you're traveling to Hungary, the books in this trilogy make great travel companions -- and your Hungarian acquaintances will be pleased at your knowledge of this classic of their country.
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Lives up to all the glowing reviews previously read on ... 23 décembre 2014
Par Anne van Beek-Rehder - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Lives up to all the glowing reviews previously read on this site and elsewhere;
a must for anyone wanting to gain an understanding of Hungary & Transylvania
in the times just before World War 1:
politics, culture, landscape, and typical characters of that time, as well as compelling
personal, romantic developments and character sketches. Evocative, insightful,
clearly well-deserving of the title 'masterpiece'. I have now read the whole trilogy, and because of
links with Transylvania in the family, will certainly do so again.
7 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 They Were Counted 26 août 2007
Par Richard Sawyer - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
This classic of Hungarian literature is a superb fictionalized depiction of early 20th century Hungary and Austria, told primarily through the lives of two cousins. The cousins, Count Balint Abady and Count Laszlo Gyeroffy, are caught up in the world of the demise of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the resulting political and social upheavals, and a frivolous and decadent aristocracy. The lives of the counts, including the choices they make, are used by the author to comment on human nature and how choices they make impact the lives of many others. The novel very authentically depicts the broad tapestry of Hungarian society, from the lives of peasants, merchants, political leaders to the members of the aristocracy during this important period of history. The author, Miklos Banffy, is a terrific storyteller. A very remarkable novel - very highly recommended.
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