Iván Sándor, Drága Liv (Dear Liv) Novel, 334 pages (Hungary, 2002)
“Where are you? Are you out with some women? I’m arriving tomorrow on the twelve o’clock plane…. That’s what was on the answering machine at any rate. She didn’t say where she’ll be coming from. Maybe Paris, perhaps Salzburg, could even be Algiers. Liv’s voice sounded as though it were right here next to me. I could even sense her body inside her voice. That’s what she was like then, thirty years ago, when we met for the first time in the dark, empty auditorium of the Montparnasse theater.” Thus thought Zoltán as he heard Liv’s voice on his answering machine in Budapest at the end of the 1990s.
Thirty years ago:
As a member of a Budapest theater troupe, Zoltán travels to Paris. His father was a well-known theater manager and director before the outbreak of the World War II. When the Nazis took control, the political situation became impossible for him, and feeling the situation hopeless, he took his life.
Zoltán refers to this when he expresses the wish to take part in Grotowski’s rehearsals. Grotowski is a famous Polish director who is currently working as a guest director in Paris. Thanks to the recommendation of her mother, a well-known French set designer, Liv also takes part in these rehearsals. She has a great ambition to become an actress. Her mother was deported from Hungary in 1944 to the concentration camp at Mauthausen. She arrived in Paris as a Holocaust survivor.
Gábor, a young engineer, is a friend of Liv’s. He emigrated to Paris in 1956 after participating in the Hungarian uprising.
Liv, Zoltán, and Gábor stroll through the Latin Quarter. A mutual affection arises between Liv and Zoltán. Through Gábor and Zoltán, Liv attempts to come to terms with her family’s past. She is able to learn nothing about her mother, who has been traumatized and wraps herself in silence.
As a sort of erotic provocation, Liv gives Zoltán his “rival” Gábor’s diary, in which he has recorded the events of the 1956 uprising.
On the return trip to Hungary, Zoltán spends a day in Salzburg. He telephones Liv from there, and she travels there to meet him. They can spend only a single night in Salzburg before Zoltán’s transit visa expires.
On the Hungarian border, a customs agent finds Gábor’s diary in Zoltán’s luggage and considers it contraband. In the following weeks, Zoltán is pressed to act as an informer. He demurs, with the result that he is forbidden to travel to the West, and he is accepted into the college of performing arts only after a number of attempts.
Zoltán learns from a professor, a former pupil of his father’s, how his father’s fascist rivals drove his father to suicide. In addition, he gains insight into Hungary’s role in the Second World War as an ally of Nazi Germany.
Since Zoltán cannot travel to Liv, she travels back and forth between Paris and Budapest. Both are struggling with their own confusion and their families’ pasts, as is Gábor, who writes about it regularly to Liv in his letters. He is working as an engineer in Algiers, where he is struggling not only against loneliness, but also against the feeling of being a displaced European. Gábor is killed in Algiers in a bomb blast.
Although Liv is spending more and more time in Budapest, it becomes clear that her relationship with Zoltán will not survive time and distance. They part ways.
Zoltán marries twice, and Liv has a number of romantic attachments. Zoltán becomes a personality in the Budapest cultural scene and after a long hiatus is again granted permission to travel abroad.
Paris. Together again. Liv wants to travel with her mother to a memorial concert in Mauthausen. Since her mother cannot bring herself to go, Liv asks Zoltán to accompany her. History, which continuously influences their lives in past, present, and memory, condenses into a single thread.
As an employee of a French–Hungarian company, Liv travels between Paris and Budapest. She and Zoltán cannot live together, but they don’t want to end their affair. The novel closes with their constant dramatic–lyrical dependence on each other.
In its interplay of past and present, this novel deals with destruction and self-destruction and the loss of cultural and personal identity.
Iván Sándor: “Yes, it is a love story…but if were only that, I would not have written it.”
The fundamental issue that the novel deals with is whether in one’s life, one can find one’s own identity…. Only through memory can one recover something of that lost world that is a component of every personality.
—Julia Wernitzer in Jelenkor
Who is this Liv anyhow? Is she the protagonist in the tragedy of men or a bystander in the tragicomedy of men? A tangled skein of riddles and questions about human existence…. Dear Liv is a tragic and grotesque play about ignorance and forgetting and about all-knowing and not forgetting.
¬—György Poszler in Kortárs
Sándor’s new novel grips the reader from beginning to end. For those who have been attuned to the social upheavals of the past sixty years, Dear Liv is required reading.
—Boglárka Nagy in Forrás
Kritiken / Reviews:
Die Zeit (DE)
Märkische Allgemeine (DE)
Neue Presse (AT)
Rheinische Post (DE)
Schw?bische Zeitung (DE)
Stuttgarter Nachrichten (DE)
Westfaelische Nachrichten (DE)
More works of this writer:
Századvégi történet (An End of Century Story)
Az Argoliszi-öböl. Roman (Working Title: The Argolian Gulf)
Az éjszaka mélyén (The Lives of Adam K.)
<-- Iván Sándor