Traveller and the Moonlight
By Antal Szerb
Antal Szerb’s superb novel, originally published in Hungarian in 1937, is now acknowledged as a classic of European literature. The story follows the misadventures of Mihaly as he travels to Italy on honeymoon with his new wife, Erszi. In Venice, he begins to tell her the story of his youth, dominated by his great friendship with the charismatic siblings Tamas and Eva Ulpius, who live in a crumbling mansion in Budapest.
From that moment on the marriage begins to fall apart, as it becomes clear that Mihaly can never escape the ghosts of his past. Bewitched by his memories, he sends Erszi back to their hotel while he loses himself in the alleys of Venice, before embarking on a chaotic journey across Italy, searching for Tamas, for Eva, and anyone connected with them.
Tragically, Antal Szerb, of Jewish descent, died in a concentration camp aged just 43. He was offered a chance to escape by admirers of his work but chose to die along with the rest of his generation. Peter Hargitai, an expatriate Hungarian poet, author, and academic now resident in Florida, had a meeting with Szerb’s widow in 1988. When he questioned her about the central enigma of the book, the identity of Tamas, and the elusive intertwining of the Ulpius siblings, she replied “Tamas IS Eva”.
As a native Hungarian speaker Hargitai brings an expert ear to this new translation, and a focus on the sexual ambiguity of this extraordinary masterpiece. Is it Eva, or is it Tamas, who is the object of Mihaly’s obsession? Mihaly, haunted by his memory of the morbid, erotic games played by Tamas and Eva, with himself as sacrificial victim, searches through a Europe soon to be ravaged by war. Bizarre, surreal and at times macabre, this is a brilliant translation of an exceptional novel