It is 1900, give or take a few years. The Vajkays—call them Mother and Father—live in Sárszeg, a dead-end burg in the provincial heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Father retired some years ago to devote his days to genealogical research and quaint questions of heraldry. Mother keeps house. Both are utterly enthralled with their daughter, Skylark. Unintelligent, unimaginative, unattractive, and unmarried, Skylark cooks and sews for her parents and anchors the unremitting tedium of their lives.
Now Skylark is going away, for one week only, it’s true, but a week that yawns endlessly for her parents. What will they do? Before they know it, they are eating at restaurants, reconnecting with old friends, attending the theater. And this is just a prelude to Father’s night out at the Panther Club, about which the less said the better. Drunk, in the light of dawn Father surprises himself and Mother with his true, buried, unspeakable feelings about Skylark.
Then, Skylark is back. Is there a world beyond the daily grind and life’s creeping disappointments? Kosztolányi’s crystalline prose, perfect comic timing, and profound human sympathy conjure up a tantalizing beauty that lies on the far side of the irredeemably ordinary. To that extent, Skylark is nothing less than a magical book.
Dezso Kosztolányi belonged to a remarkable generation of Central European writers. This novel is a masterpiece. From the opening sentences, he is drawing on nuance and subtle detail; comedy and pathos. Every gesture speaks volumes…..for all the humour and the easy comedy this lively study of small life is as profound as a prayer, as subtle as a lament.
—The Irish Times
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
Richard Aczel’s fine version of Skylark catches its author’s irony and sharp, atmospheric nuance. This hidden masterpiece is now being presented to a wide audience, an event to be celebrated.
— The Irish Times
Kosztolányi’s precise description of his chosen microcosm has produced a gem of a book that is completely convincing in its depiction of characters and the society they move in. The language is invigorating and at times hilarious.
— The Independent
…a superb, deeply poignant short novel…anyone can enjoy Skylark as literature in English, even it they have no special knowledge of, or interest in, Hungary…because Kosztolányi’s writing is good enough to transcend [any] cultural differences…
— Timothy Garton Ash, The Independent (London)