Kriszta Bódis: Artista (Working Title: "Up, Up, and Away!") Novel, 310 pages (Hungary, 2006)
The protagonist is a fourteen-year-old girl from a foster home. She is called simply by her family name Pickler . When she was two years old, her mother gave her up to the state for foster care, and she has done so repeatedly.
The child eternally hopes that her mother will take her back, but she is moved from one place to another, as is her later friend Jano and their companions in misfortune. But Pickler is always running away. No door, no wall, no tree, no mast can keep her captive. It is rumored that that she had been for a time at a school for circus performers. All possible tales are told about her, though in fact, no one knows about her or her life much at all.
Up, Up, and Away! is multifaceted. Each chapter takes a new point of view, and together they form a montage that elucidate Pickler ’s tragic death and its (possible) causes.
After the “salto mortale” that leads to her death is declared an accident, the psychologist Judit begins to investigate the true causes of the event. Judit is the other mysterious figure in the novel. She is the medium. No one knows either her character or her life story. One can only guess at her current situation, motivation, and feelings from the way that she is spoken about. The interviews conducted by Judit lead the reader into a world that to most will appear unknown, unbelievable, and yet real.
Her first interview is with Jano, Pickler ’s best friend. He is also in a foster home, is sixteen years old, and is a drug dealer. Jano is a rapper, a tragicomic figure. Slang, revel in original aphorisms, and compulsive joking are for him the elixir of life.
In the “objectively” narrated chapters one learns that a decision had been made to transfer Pickler , on account of her behavior, from the girl’s boarding school to the “educational institution.” This is the nightmare of every foster child, for here life is much stricter than in the other schools. On entering, a student is branded. Pickler , who is freedom personified, cannot accept this decision. She is to wait for a time at a transfer facility, but she runs away.
Pickler ’s childhood is also related in these chapters. Regardless of the social stratum or geographical location of the interviewees, each attempts to place the blame for Pickler ’s death elsewhere, all usually revealing their true motives and making themselves ridiculous in the process.
In the transfer facility, Pickler is met by “Uncle” Dénes. Dénes, a failed artist, has become a teacher. He presents himself everywhere as a generous and just helper. He knows Pickler well, senses that the girl will again attempt to escape, and indeed catches her in the act the following day. He invites her to spend the night with him, which leads to sexual relations. She is still a girl, and so she responds to the sexual violence with immature indifference. The next morning she leaves Dénes.
From the interview that Judit takes from Pickler ’s homeless alcoholic father, the reader learns of the family’s background. Related are the wretched circumstances surrounding Pickler ’s birth, her mother’s neuroses, helplessness, and alcoholism. After her divorce, Pickler ’s mother is worn down by a series of violent relationships in which Pickler is as often a victim as a witness. In vain she attempts to save her mother.
The characters in the novel are at once sympathetic and pitiable. Judit wishes not to judge them, but for a lack of evidence, she no longer has a hold on the story (including her own). The protagonists’ monologues more or less overwhelm her.
The interviews with the stepfather and the director of the girl’s boarding school make Judit powerless, while Pickler is apparently beginning to free herself from the clutches of the world around her. Freed or excluded? It is a matter of one’s point of view. On the one hand, this is the story of a lost child; on the other, that of her liberation.
In the meantime, it turns out that Pickler ’s vagabondage is not merely an adventure, but much more a search for independence and a passage through the stages of maturation, even among the archaic Gypsies, where she experiences the purity of love given and received.
Pickler would in fact like to become an acrobat. Her uncanny tricks are mostly metaphorical, as is her “final leap.”
Toward the end of the novel, she sneaks into the foster home to visit her friends. That evening, she meets “Uncle” Dénes. He does not know whether what transpires between the two has the direct effect of Pickler ’s climbing up an electrical tower, where she receives an electric shock and falls.
In the last chapter, Judit interviews Dénes, and the reader discovers that Pickler in fact did not die at once, but only later, in the hospital, after a number of amputations. Her death is declared accidental. The novel’s epigraph is realized:
“What are you doing?
I am trying to fly.
Do you mean that a person can fly?
No, but I can.
About the novel, the author has written, “The protagonists and the plot of my novel are entirely fictional. The story of Pickler has been reconstructed from nonexistent documents and reports. Any resemblance to real people or events is unintended, but that such should occur by happenstance is unavoidable.”
Extracts from Reviews:
Kriszta Bódis has courageously waded into the dirty reality of the lowest social strata, to the untamed and the disgustingly drunk, where children go hungry and suffer even more through their mothers’ shortcomings.
A suitable metaphor is the girl’s repeated escapes: Her longing to leave her horrid surroundings is woven together with her longing for her mother….
An original work of art.
(Viktoria Radics in Magyar Narancs)
One was justified after Kriszta Bódis’s first novel to believe in her talent. With her second novel this belief has been impressively justified.
(László Márton in Élet és irodalom)
In Up, Up, and Away! the author has used brilliant linguistic techniques…. Kriszta Bódis is the most unsparing author in contemporary Hungarian literature.
(Barbara Thüringer in Index)
In considering the language that Kriszta Bódis uses in Up, Up, and Away!, one must mention the point of view of a filmmaker…. Like her famous model, Woody Allen, she passes among various styles with an effortless intellectual panache.
(Péter Rácz in Litera)
Pickler and her comrades live among us. They are as much a part of reality as the rest of us. Kriszta Bódis’s novel shows this world with astonishing social sensitivity and merciless candor.
(Dóra Szücs in Romapage)
Kritiken / Reviews:
connecting culture austria (AT)
Der Standard (AT)
Élet és Irodalom (HU)
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE)
Magyar Narancs (HU)
Magyar Nemzet (HU)
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