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HU 1987
Az elhallgatás

Judit Fenákel: Az elhallgatás (Working Title "The Silence")

Novel, 275 pages (Hungary, 1982)

In the 1970s, the teacher and journalist Juli Kellner is again subjected to disciplinary proceedings. During the tedious process she sinks into reverie. She jumps back in time to her childhood and adolescence.

The seemingly disconnected details depict her isolation in a village elementary school, deportation and loss of her parents, the deteriorating house of her aunt, where the orphaned girl is to find solace during the barren 1950s. But even her aunt’s good intentions cannot overcome the prohibition—on account of her origins: her father was a lawyer—against her studying at university after completing her teacher’s training.

Since she is unwilling to take part in every political witch-hunt, she is transferred to a teaching post in a godforsaken corner of the provinces. Here she lives through the 1956 Hungarian uprising. But here at the end of the world there is no revolution. Here already in October one wades in sludge up to the ankles; in her room, the shabby cast-iron stove smokes and stinks. Juli must make do with the love of her sole slimy colleague. She has to assert herself against the local authorities and come to terms with daily life, divorced from all signs of civilization.

After a long time, she is accepted at the university. She falls in love with one of her instructors, but he returns her feelings only superficially. At the first opportunity, Juli quits the university. As editor of a student journal and later a daily newspaper, she is soon reined in by the Communist censors.

Several disciplinary proceedings follow a similar pattern: sometimes the complaint is about her origins, while at others it is some phrase in one of her articles. Each time, Juli stands before her accusers, who in the name of Communist ideology thunder down at her, “Name? Date of birth? Where? Father’s profession before 1945? And then? Relatives in the West? Where do they live? Where do you live? Tenant, subtenant, family member, someone just put up with? Have you ever had a child or an abortion? Childhood diseases? Do you know the postman?” One more time, she answers these questions.

Over time, her life acquires a purpose: her cousin moves in with a new friend and leaves her fatherless son in Juli’s care. But that lasts only a short time. To avoid military service but also because he sees no future for himself, the young Tamás soon accepts his father’s invitation to join him abroad.

Juli remains entirely alone. She is hounded out of the editorship of the local newspaper. While a newspaper in the capital publishes an article of hers from time to time, Juli is unable to find steady employment. She increasingly shuts herself off from the world. The muzzle that she occasionally wore becomes permanent. Eventually she can no longer speak, and later she becomes completely silent.

Then Juli begins a new relationship with a physician. Can this love bring about a change in her life?

Judit Fenákel writes: Misunderstandings and attempts at explanations accompany us throughout our lives. Listen to two people. They are capable of misunderstanding each other a number of times in a short period of time. On top of that, life is not restricted to dialogue between two individuals. The more people involved, the greater the number of potential misunderstandings. One can respond to this challenge in a variety of ways.

Commentary on the novel:

“Judit Fenákel’s books speak for themselves. One does not need to point out their worth to the educated reader.” —Imre Kertész

“Az elhallgatás by Judit Fenákel is an outstanding novel with an interesting plot and excellent structure.” —Mercedes Patz, Arany-Ezüst

Kritiken / Reviews:

Élet es Irodalom (HU)

More works of this writer:

Lili utazásai (working title: "Lili's Travels")
Az igazi nagy nö (working title: "A Woman of the World")
Levélária (Working Title "They loved the opera")
Magántörténet (working title: "The Temptation")
A kékezüst hölgy (working title: „Olga's three lives“)
A fénykép hatoldala (working title: "Backside of the Picture")

<-- Judit Fenákel