The Door by Magda Szabo is one of those books that will stay with me a long time. I certainly have thought back to it often in the time since I finished reading it.
And that’s actually been quite a while! I read this back in August, intending it to be part of Women in Translation month. But then life got busy and here it is almost November
The Door was a recommendation from CottonWoolen who lives in Hungary and is doing a project of reading books from 20 countries in Europe. Thanks for the suggestion!
I think this book resonated with me because I’m one of those people who, when I feel like I’ve done something wrong, tend to hash the whole thing through again and again in my mind. The Door is basically that mental hashing and mashing turned into a book.
The Door is tightly focused on a single relationship, between the narrator (a writer) and her housekeeper, Emerence. Everything outside of this relationship happens in the background- a husband’s illness, history and politics, other people. Emerence is quite a character. She interviews her potential employers rather than the other way around. In some ways she seems like the ideal noble proletarian for a book originally published in Communist Hungary, but she also pushes some boundaries. Szabo, the author/narrator (the book seems to be largely autobiographical) also had a mixed relationship with the Communist government, sometimes in favor and sometimes out.
The way the book was structured, with the narrator retelling the story of her relationship with Emerence, meant that while the story was basically chronological, there were some pieces of information that weren’t fully explained until later and other pieces of information which were foretold. As a result, I realized in the middle of the book that there were simultaneously things that I knew that the narrator didn’t yet know and also things that I didn’t know that the narrator did. That might sound annoying, but I found it an interesting reading experience.
I hope to read more of Magda Szabo’s books. Many of them aren’t translated into English, including the one that was voted in the top ten of the Hungarian version of The Big Read (coming in ahead of Harry Potter). But for some reason The Door has been translated twice. It looks like more of her books are being translated since another of her books, Iza’s Ballad, was just published in English in August.