Peter Nádas's A Book of Memories, translated by Ivan Sanders with Imre Goldstein

by Deborah Eisenberg

To read Peter Nádas’s A Book of Memories is to be devoured by it. So intense, so penetrating is Nádas’s novel that it simply replaces one’s own experience for the duration of its 700 densely written pages, and long afterward as well. The font of the extended, tangled, and highly discursive narrative lines in which the book is composed is postwar Budapest and the city’s multiform expressions of passion betrayed. But perhaps the book should be described as a vivisection of the individual psyche, or of the strange frontier where psyches variously merge and divide.

Nádas’s prose—even in translation (though an excellent translation this must be)—is shockingly exact, and his observation shockingly acute; each sentence seems to be stamped out of reality itself. An operatic plenitude of flamboyant incident, the obsessive inspection of minutiae flow compellingly along in Nádas’s fastidious execution. And there are moments, even in the most fevered passages, of humor so irresistible that you have to laugh out loud.

There’s no denying it’s a daunting book and a demanding one, and I myself found the first 80 pages or so frustrating. But the reader who perseveres will be rewarded many times over and in unexpected ways. It’s an inebriating experience. And if you’re allotting yourself only one book of fiction this decade, A Book of Memories would be a terrific choice.

—Deborah Eisenberg


A Book Of Memories was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and will be available in Penguin paperback in October.

Hungarian language
eastern european literature
Fall 1998
The cover of BOMB 65