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Satantango [Hardcover]

Laszlo Krasznahorkai
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Feb. 7 2012
"Satantango" is the masterpiece of post-war Hungarian literature, now available for the first time in English. In the darkening embers of a Communist utopia, life in a desolate Hungarian town has come to a virtual standstill. Flies buzz, spiders weave, water drips and animals root desultorily in the barnyard of a collective farm. But when the charismatic Irimias - long-thought dead - returns to the commune, the villagers fall under his spell. The Devil has arrived in their midst. Irimias will divide and rule: his arrival heralds the beginning of a period of violence and greed for the villagers as he sets about swindling them out of a fortune that might allow them to escape the emptiness and futility of their existence. He soon attains a messianic aura as he plays on the fears of the townsfolk and a series of increasingly brutal events unfold. "Satantango" follows the villagers as they are exploited and taken in by Irimias; as they drink and stumble their way toward the gradual realization of their mistake and ultimate demise. In its measured prose and long, Tolstoyan sentences, "Satantango" is nothing short of a literary masterpiece; a formal meditation on death and avarice, human fallibility and faith. It is suitable for readers of Samuel Beckett, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Sandor Marai, Joseph Roth, Madga Szabo, Roberto Bolano, Milan Kundera, Patrick Suskind, W. G. Sebald, Elif Batuman, and Gunter Grass.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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"* "A masterpiece of modern European literature. Brilliant, unforgiving, gripping. Essential reading for anyone wishing to comprehend the dark heart of the 20th century." - Alex Preston, author of This Bleeding City * 'I fell in love with the fierce, barbed intelligence in his sentences... Krasznahorkai is the kind of writer who at least once on every page finds a way of expressing something one has always sensed but never known, let alone been able to describe.' - Nicole Krauss * 'Like something far down the periodic table of elements, Krasznahorkai's sentences are strange, elusive, frighteningly radioactive. They seek to replicate the entropic whirl of consciousness itself... Haunting, pleasantly weird and, ultimately, bigger than the worlds they inhabit.' - Jacob Silverman, New York Times Book Review" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Laszlo Krasznahorkai is a Hungarian writer born in 1954. Krasznahorkai has been honoured with numerous literary prizes, among them the highest award of the Hungarian state, the Kossuth Prize and, in 1993, the German Bestenliste Prize for the best literary work of the year. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Satantango casts a Beckett-like shadow... Nov. 4 2012
By Libra
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Satantango, a novel by the Hungarian novelist, Laszlo Krasznahorkai is not written for the faint of heart. It is set "somewhere" in eastern Europe during or after the Second World War. Like Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot", nothing much happens. A group of villagers get word that a man from their collective past,who was revered by all of them, is returning to the village. The men of the village spend their time anticipating his return by getting drunk, dancing, lusting after other men's wifes, and plotting betrayals of their neighbours. At least one of the village's women sees this hero's return as her personal salvation, releasing her from a loveless, albeit economically expedient marriage. Like the landscape of war and communism the village is a place of mud, rain and desolation... a landscape without hope, or any kind of future.
If you are a reader who likes linear writing with a plot that gives you a beginning, middle and end, do not read this novel.
However, if you are a reader who seeks to immerse yourself in a brilliant, absurdist novel about the state of nihilistic dispair and utter hopelessess that pervaded Eastern Europe during the mid-twentieth century...this is the tale for you.
Krasznhorkai's writing is predicated on the creation of a kind of scaffolding out of which ascends an architecture of bleak gothic-like themes and motifs...all sculpted in huge, pages-long sentences...
It is disorienting and yet, so beautifully crafted that I couldn't put this novel down.
Oh, as an afterthought, I have to assume that Krasznahorkai's translator is very, very skilled; ironically, I never felt "lost" in this haunting, nay harrowing tale.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius, and one of the greatest living novelists March 23 2012
By David Auerbach - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'll start by confessing that I have written on Krasznahorkai for years and on the basis of The Melancholy of Resistance and his other books, I consider him one of the greatest contemporary writers.

Satantango was Krasznahorkai's first novel, published in 1985 but only translated now into English. I've read Satantango in French but I don't know Hungarian, so I can only say that Szirtes seems to have done as wonderful a job here as he did with Melancholy.

Satantango is the story of a tiny rural Hungarian village and its miserable, static inhabitants. A drunk doctor, a barman, farmers, and a few others have affairs and go about their lives. A certain tragedy strikes, and simultaneously a (very) false prophet named Irimias appears to play havoc in the tragedy's aftermath. It is a simple story, made complex by a precise, nightmarish build-up of small, unsettling details and destabilizing loops of prose that makes you feel like the very basis of reality is falling apart, reflecting the condition of the villagers.

The prose is thick and miasmic, though not as labyrinthine as Krasznahorkai's subsequent work. There is more acute cruelty in this book, in contrast to the sublime chaos that takes over in Melancholy of Resistance. Here is the doctor sitting by his window, watching the others:

"He had had to amass and arrange, in the most serviceable positions possible, the objects indispensable for eating, drinking, smoking, diary-writing, reading and countless other trifling tasks, and even had to renounce allowing the occasional error to go unpunished out of self-indulgence pure and simple."

Those who have a great affection for other voices of chaos and fracture, like Kleist and Kafka and Beckett, should read Krasznahorkai. I would rank him among them. His long sentences get compared to Thomas Bernhard, but Krasznahorkai is much more metaphysical, much less psychological. (Only Bernhard's Correction bears any real resemblance to Krasznahorkai's work.)

The fantastic Hungarian director Bela Tarr filmed Satantango (it's 7 1/2 hours long): I would recommend reading the book first, however, because the film adaptation makes excisions and alterations that are better appreciated with knowledge of the book.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Self-delusion played as a team sport. June 16 2012
By Dick Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The residents of the "estate" are trying to brew some type of life out of the dregs of their small town. However, life seemingly left that area some time ago. There are those who will hang on forever in a hope that someone will somehow make things like they used to be. This is probably the case in other countries in real life as it is in the fictional one of the Hungary we read about in Satantango.

The same people tell the same stories over and over, even though others could tell the same stories and maybe do it better. Others go through the same routine motions each day/week. You can set your clock/calendar by their actions. Though they want things to change for the better, of course they don't want to be forced to change. To their credit, they lack that particular ability. Their contribution to the world is based on the way things "were" not on the way things "are".

But, salvation is on the way. A savior will come with the solution to their problems, with the cure to their disease, with their futures secured. Unless he is dead. Or was that just a rumor? Or perhaps it was both a rumor and the truth. He is coming, though. Right? Things will be better then. Right?

Unlike "stream of conscience" stories, he seems to write "stream of description" stories. His narrators have to include every possible word, or set of them, that will explain the thoughts and actions of the characters to the reader. It is like the person who breathlessly begins "let me tell you what happened" and minutes later still isn't done but has to stop to gasp in some air before continuing, and continuing, and .... (As in, "Pull up a seat. This may take a while.")

Thus, we enter the minds of the characters and not only hear their spoken words but also read their thoughts. All of them. Such as they are. Their thoughts are not necessarily well reasoned or even slightly reasoned. We quickly hope that our minds are somehow wired differently than theirs. Or, we certainly hope that others never gain the same entry into our minds. Ever.

The entire book is a study of people - people caught up by and in a changing world. The author has created a limited universe of people, places and events to tell the story of the residents. They are generally unlikeable, but they will often surprise you and their antics are frequently worth a chuckle, or even a laugh. This is a delightful story of squalor and despair - and that is not a contradiction.

Krasznahorkai's Melancholy of Resistance is a nonstop story of a city and a country caught in the pincers of history, but told through the same type microscopic study of a few of the people. Satantango, likewise, is about the people. This time the changing city becomes the changed village. The players in the running of a city become the hangers-on of the past that might never survive the present, much less make it to the future.

Reading the section available using the "Look Inside" feature (above) will provide the potential reader with a sample of Krasznahorkai's style of writing. Yes, the entire book is written "that way". If you find the form to be as fascinating as I did, then you have discovered an author to be enjoyed.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Madness July 7 2012
By Sam - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Satantango is a apocalyptic nightmare wrapped in a hilarious dream. If Faulkner had been Hungarian he might have written like László Krasznahorkai. A book like no other and simply a work of art.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The imagination never stops working but we're not one jot nearer the truth," March 29 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Satantango, starts in some mouldering Hungarian hamlet, the home of the workers of a collective long since closed and stripped of anything of worth, and like the inhabitants of the hamlet forgotten by the outside world. In fact the only growth market appears to be rot and spiders, very little happens here. Within the first few pages we realise that the rot has spread to all and sundry, there is not a single character of worth, all are, to varying degrees, corrupt, paranoid and full of loathing whether of self or of their neighbours. We also learn that they are waiting for Irimias, who may or may not be Satan, not that this matters as these individuals are so deep into the morass of all that's bad about humanity, that Satan would be worried about contamination. The villagers wait at the inn for Irimias, who has been seen on the road heading their way with his sidekick Petrina, which is strange because Irimias, is supposed to be dead. Irimias has the ability to charm and mesmerise all to his way, even those who are deeply suspicious of him, still follow his bidding even parting with the collective's small pot of money. This leads to a series of events that breaks what little bonds they once held and violence erupts, although this is brief as all are so ensnared by Irimias machination, that they can see little else.

In a post,I read it stated that " I felt this book had a lot of central European mythology that has been brought to the modern age and also what makes myths.." This wonderful insight I think rings true, in fact I would go further and state that the character of Irimias, is a great representation of a character not just of European mythology but of world, Irimias, seems to be a Trickster, who features in a lot of tales from around the world whether as Loki, Syrdon, Veles, Gwydion or as Coyote, Anansi or Crow. The Trickster, is an example of a Jungian archetype, defined as being an "ancient or archaic image that derives from the collective unconscious" (Carl Jung). The Trickster surfaces in modern literature as a character archetype often acting as a catalyst or harbinger of change, they may reveal unhappiness with the status quo through slips of the tongue or spontaneous and unusual actions, which is pretty much a pen portrait of Irimias.

Although this may be alluded to within the book Krasznahorkai, is not one for spelling things out. Irimias may be the devil/ trickster or just some cheap con man. With the action (?) confined pretty much to the hamlet, this book come across as really claustrophobic, everything cycles through like the seasons, but unlike the seasons nothing is resolved there is no growth everything appears thwarted, even stunted. The dance just goes on with no joy or release - just an increasing heaviness, everything simmers and yet the kettle doesn't boil, the pressure cooker doesn't release its pressure. There is no end.

This book has also been described as an indictment of Hungarian Collective farming in the dying days of communism and a reaction to the reality of the capitalist dream on a communist utopia. It has also been described as a book on the nature of storytelling. None of this is spelled out in the book, as stated above, very little happens on the page, like the stage direction "Offstage action", most of what happens here, happens within your head and continues to do so long past the turning of the final page.

This post is a series of reactions to what is basically a very simple story and yet I cannot write a cohesive review of it. The obvious place to start would be that it is divided into 12 chapters, most consisting of a single paragraph, or that the book is split into two with the chapters in the first part going from one to six and in the second part from six to one, also the last chapter is named The circle closes, which is apt. The book is set in the twentieth century, although it's shading would lends itself to some medieval setting, or anything apocalyptic. Referring back to my kettle analogy and taking it to it's conclusion, the kettle boils dry leaving only the husks of what was once human, the threshings of humanity.

All that I've written are bullet points, headlining some points yet neglecting others, I guess like storytelling itself, in that you choose a certain path whilst omitting others, and even whilst on that path you do not see, or choose not to see everything - defining yourself and your tale by what you put forward. Satantango, circles on itself like some mythical serpent and within that circle the characters dance their own isolated geometries like marionettes in some brutal puppet play, whilst the story eats it's own tail.

As previously stated, this is a book that happens more in the mind than on the page, this makes it all the more baffling and all the more interesting, what I didn't state is that I have read three books since Satantango, and it still haunts me - still has me trying to comprehend what this paradoxically simple tale is all about.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dancing With The Devil - The Inevitable Human Condition Aug. 15 2012
By Jon Linden - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In his recently published book, "Satan Tango," Laszlo Krasznahorkia describes his observations and views upon the universal human condition. While the book was originally published in 1985, it was only available in the author's native tongue, Hungarian. Now, with an incomparably wonderful translation by George Szirtes, the book is available in all its glory in the English language.

Everything about the book is an example of contradictions leading to one inevitable conclusion. Yet the contradictions are truly foremost in the author's rendition. One glance at the Table of Contents informs the reader that the book shall portray an adventure which starts in Chapter 1 and ends in Chapter 6, but then proceeds to take the reader back to the beginning as the Chapter following Chapter 6 is once again, Chapter 6. The Chapters then count their way back down to Chapter 1 which completes the author's tale.

The book is truly an archetype that is virtually never ending. It depicts the story of a small village of only a few remaining people, who are used by the author to depict the human condition as Krasznahorkia envisions life to be. The events unfold in a series of illustrations and occurrences that paint a portrait of people acting out all their frailties, betrayals, failures and uselessness to illustrate that the human condition is but a hopeless endeavor; doomed to show people suffering through their lives as they make agreements either wittingly or ignorantly, with the Devil. Therefore, it is only the Devil's successes and the Faustian nature of the people's meaningless attempts to improve their various situations, as best as they can, through the performance of Satan's work that tempts them as they go on living.

In fact, even death provides no respite, no relief from this cycle of madness. For death seems to only result in a condition wherein the soul of the dead one bounces back and forth between life and death without ever really going to a final rest. Man is imprisoned in an endless loop, where life resembles a figure 8, which of course if laid down on its side, becomes the symbol for infinity. Thus man travels from here to there and back again, without truly accomplishing anything that he would have initially defined as productive.

In between the beginning and the end there is a series of events such as birth, construction, destruction, drunken dancing, and other forms of cavorting with Satan, as man tries to better his condition via nefarious planning and failure to come to terms with life at any point in the process. Krasznahorkia shows the reader this hopelessness and Szirtes beautifully unabridged, unexpurgated and unaltered translation show the cycle in such a manner as to make the reader aware that there is no alternative, that man shall always run this gauntlet of disappointment and anxiety forever.

The author uses every element in his power to show the depravity and degradation of life. He uses sentences, which are wonderfully crafted and extremely lengthy. The normal rules of grammar are discarded. Paragraphs sometimes go on for several pages, each containing only one sentence, or maybe two sentences. In fact, at one point in the rendition, even the convention of using a blank space between words is dispensed with and the words are randomly spaced so as to show that there are really no rules that cannot be broken.

Undoubtedly, the author's depiction is influenced by what he sees around him during the fall of Communism in the early 1980's, to be replaced only by some other form of Communism that is really so much like what they had before that it is inseparable from the original version. It comes complete with all its mendacity, disingenuousness, pretentions, misrepresentations, deceptions and prevarications. At some points, it truly seems to be insidious and perverse. Yet it tells the story of the life that man has created for himself in the service of Satan who surely does exist. The question is more whether God exists or not, as there is a certainty that the Devil must exist, for if not, things would not be the way they are here.

While some readers may find the book disturbing, the truly ingenious creativity and masterful images conjured by the author are truly too great to pass up. As Dante' depicts Hell in his way, so here Krasnahorkia depicts human existence in his book as truly a Tango with Satan. It is a book which like "The Inferno" is destined to be a timeless portrait of what life can become, and in some places has become. All truly serious readers, particularly those who seek to understand the meaning of the behavior of the human race cannot afford to pass it by. It is recommended for mature reading audiences who can read such a portrayal without being overly judgmental and apply what they see here to their everyday life and that of the human race in general.
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