Dezső Kosztolányi (1885-1936) was born in Subotica, a provincial Austro-Hungarian city (located in present-day Serbia) that would serve as the model for the fictional town in which he later set several novels, including Skylark. His father was the headmaster of the local gymnasium, which he attended until he was expelled for insubordination. Kosztolányi spent three years studying Hungarian and German at the University of Budapest, but quit in 1906 to go into journalism. In 1908 he was among the first contributors to the legendary literary journal Nyugat; in 1910, the publication of his second collection of poems, The Complaints of a Poor Little Child, caused a literary sensation. Kosztolányi turned from poetry to fiction in the 1920s, when he wrote the novels Nero, the Bloody Poet (to which Thomas Mann contributed a preface); Skylark; and Anna Edès. An influential critic and, in 1931, the first president of the Hungarian PEN Club, Kosztolányi was also celebrated as the translator of such varied writers as Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Verlaine, Baudelaire, Goethe, and Rilke, as well as for his anthology of Chinese and Japanese poetry. He was married to the actress Ilona Harmos and had one son.
“This short, perfect novel seems to encapsulate all the world’s pain in a soap bubble. Its surface is as smooth as a fable, its setting and characters are unremarkable, its tone is blithe, and its effect is shattering.” —Deborah Eisenberg, The New York Review of Books