Journey by Moonlight.pdf
An NYRB Classics Original
Venice between the wars, a Hungarian couple on their honeymoon. But “Venice is where the trouble began”—where Mihály finds that he prefers wandering backalleys to the company of his bride, Erzsi. In Ravenna they are interrupted at an outdoor café by a man who zooms up on a motorcycle. It is a man from Mihály’s past, with a mysterious grudge and an inexplicable demand: that Mihály seek out a friend of their childhood who had been spotted in a procession of monks. Outside of Florence, Mihály fails to board the train that is to carry him and Erzsi to Rome. Thus begins Mihály’s odyssey through the cities and countryside of Italy and back through the youth that haunts him. Here he is reunited with a charismatic sister and brother, Éva and Tamás, whose strange amateur theatricals have left sex and death forever linked in Mihály’s mind; Ervin, a rival for Éva’s love and a Jew turned Catholic monk; and the man on the motorcycle, János.
Antal Szerb’s dreamlike story is a reckoning with freedom and responsibility, the pulls of love and destruction, and the ways that the past returns to be relived or rejected.
“Just divine...I can’t remember the last time I did this: finished a novel, and then turned straight back to page 1 to start it over again. That is, until I read Journey by Moonlight...It’s a comedy, but a serious and slyly clever one, the kind of book that makes you imagine the author has had private access to your own soul...Len Rix [has] managed to translate Szerb’s book into beautifully fluent English, and what we have is a work of comedy and depth, the comedy all the more striking in that the chief subjects of the book are abnegation and suicide...No one who has read it has failed to love it.” —Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
“A writer of immense subtlety and generosity...Can literary mastery be this quiet-seeming, this hilarious, this kind? Antal Szerb is one of the great European writers” —Ali Smith
“A novel to love as well as admire, always playful and ironical, full of brilliant descriptions, bon mots and absurd situations...it’s a book utterly in love with life.” —Kevin Crossley-Holland, The Guardian, Books of the Year
“This radiantly funny and intelligent novel...shows its author to be one of the masters of twentieth-century fiction. Len Rix’s loving translation of a book that might have remained lost to us deserves special praise.” —Paul Bailey, The Times Literary Supplement, International Books of the Year
“Szerb’s first novel exulted in the absurdity of life while his last despaired over it. His most well-known work, Journey by Moonlight, written in 1937, maintained a powerful tension between both...May Szerb’s re-entrance into our literary pantheon be definitive.” —Alberto Manguel
“Mihály’s relationship with Tamás is so myopic and worshipful as to bring back memories of Death in Venice, but I respect Szerb’s book more...the book is one of the few written before the deluge that acknowledges a bourgeois unreality with an unblinkered eye.” —David Auerbach
“One of the friends I mentioned put a small book in my hand and said: ‘Len, you must read this. Every educated Hungarian knows and loves this book.’ It was Antal Szerb’s Utas és holdvilág. Within a few pages I knew it was a great European novel, and I determined not just to translate it but to try and give it a translation of the literary quality it deserves.” —Len Rix
“A devastatingly intelligent novel of love, society and metaphysics in a mid-1930s Europe...As a study of erotic caprice, Journey by Moonlight is brilliant, but it is so much more than just a romp...This is a delightfully clever and enchanting novel, always entertaining and full of memorable aphorisms...Rix’s translation does its vibrancy justice, despite the odd anachronism...Szerb was a writer of immense talent, never sharper than in presaging the calamity that eventually killed him. Happily for us, his memory lives on.” —Toby Lichtig, The Times Literary Supplement
“A veritable avalanche of brilliant perceptions...It’s all so earnest, so up-to-date, so symbolic, so sophisticated, so marvelously pleased with itself and yet so naïve and unhappy you don’t know whether to consume the book at a sitting or throw it away...Journey by Moonlight is a burning book, a major book.” —George Szirtes
“A stealthy masterpiece...both comic and beautiful.” —The Telegraph
“Wonderfully wry...We owe thanks to Len Rix, Szerb’s accomplished translator, for his part in raising from the dead a writer of such cool irony and historical sympathy.” —New Statesman
Antal Szerb (1901–1945), born in Budapest, was a writer and scholar noted as one of the major literary personalities of the twentieth century. He established a reputation as an academic at a very young age, spoke several languages, and lived in France, Italy, and England. In late 1944 he was deported to a concentration camp where he died months later. Among his major fictional works are Journey by Moonlight, The Pendragon Legend, and Oliver VII.
Len Rix is a translator of Hungarian literature, best known for his translations of Antal Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight and Magda Szabo’s The Door, both of which will be published as NYRB Classics in Fall 2014. He lives in the U.K.
Julie Orringer is an American writer from Miami. She is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes and her stories have appeared in McSweeney's, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, as well as in several anthologies. She has a collection of short stories, How to Breathe Underwater, and one novel, The Invisible Bridge. She lives in Brooklyn.