The Magician’s Garden, by Géza Csath

This one was actually a collection of short stories. Csath inhabits a dark turn-of-the-century central-European headspace. Add to that an opium addiction, suicidal tendancies, and medical experience and the writing style is somewhat one-of-a-kind, not entirely unlike Kafka but far dreamier and more allegorical. Csath’s style bounces between splendid descriptions of pure joy and dreary narratives of human bestiality. He particularly doesn’t seem to like children: children in Csath stories are at best indifferently cruel, at worst sadistic. Dreams, nightmares, pleasure and pain come together in his stories, each of which is surprisingly short. I wouldn’t call Csath a master stylist (hampered as I am, especially, by not reading it in its native language), but he definitely had a gift for a visceral description.

It’s odd that this sort of bleakness predated World War I. Things weren’t especially good in Hungary before the war, but they hadn’t been good for a while. But after the war, and the disasterous Kun government, and the Trianon treaty, things got a lot worse. But somehow mid-20th-century authors were never quite as pessimistic as Csath was — or Kafka, or other contemporaries in time and space.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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