April is online – meet György Faludy

March 31, 2011

We’re online before the end of the month this time, because your editor will be heading off for a short seaside holiday on the first of April.

The cover portraits are of  Rimbaud and Faludy. I suspect that the former is the more familiar to most Anglophone poetry readers, but Faludy really is a man worth knowing.

One of the features of Snakeskin over the past few years that I’m most pleased with is the series of translations from the Hungarian by Thomas Land, introducing poets unknown to most of us. Of these, faludy must be a star turn. I have recently been reading  the translation of  his 1962 autobiography, My Happy Days in Hell, published in Penguin Modern Classics, and thoroughly deserving its place there.

My Happy Days in Hell

At the start  of the book, Faludy is leaving the Hungary of 1939, about to make its devil’s pact with Hitler. He remembers the outsize characters of his childhood as he heads for exile in Paris, where he is among a group of emigres who may be impoverished but know how to live life to the full. When the Germans invade France, Faludy and his friends head for North Africa, where his appetite for life takes him into hair-raising adventures among brigands.

After war service with the American army, Faludy returns to his native Hungary, now part of the Socialist bloc. The next chapters are one of the most penetrating indictments of Communism that I have ever read. The authoritarian system gives power to the toadies, the careerists and the bullies. It is a culture where  free speech and free thought are stifled. When Faludy is arrested, which was inevitable in the long run, since he is not a man for keeping quiet,  it is almost a relief. As a prisoner he is more able to speak his own mind and to be himself than he had been as a free man.

The description of life in a forced-labour camp is gruelling, but actually life-enhancing. At nights, after a back-breaking day, Faludy and his fellow-prisoners discuss Platonism intensely, to keep their minds and spirits alive.

Here is someone who faces the worst the twentieth century has to offer, and comes through fighting. The critic Philip Toynbee said: “Faludy is the man we would all like to be.” It’s a very great book indeed. Thomas Land’s translations in this issue will introduce you to the poetry of this remarkable man.

You may also note that a couple of pieces in this issue are a bit experimental in their means of presentation. I’d like to do more in this manner, so if you’ve any ideas about pieces that might benefit from animation or automation – let me know.

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