From the author of The Door, selected by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2015
An NYRB Classics Original
Like Magda Szabó’s internationally acclaimed novel The Door, Iza’s Ballad is a striking story of the relationship between two women, in this case a mother and a daughter. Ettie, the mother, is old and from an older world than the rapidly modernizing Communist Hungary of the years after World War II. From a poor family and without formal education, Ettie has devoted her life to the cause of her husband, Vince, a courageous magistrate who had been blacklisted for political reasons before the war. Iza, their daughter, is as brave and conscientious as her father: Active in the resistance against the Nazis, she is now a doctor and a force for progress. Iza lives and works in Budapest, and when Vince dies, she is quick to bring Ettie to the city to make sure her mother is close and can be cared for. She means to do everything right, and Ettie is eager to do everything to the satisfaction of the daughter she is so proud of. But good intentions aside, mother and daughter come from two different worlds and have different ideas of what it means to lead a good life. Though they struggle to accommodate each other, increasingly they misunderstand and hurt each other, and the distance between them widens into an abyss. . . .
About the Author
Magda Szabó (1917–2007) was born into an old Protestant family in Debrecen, Hungary’s “Calvinist Rome,” in the midst of the great Hungarian plain. Szabó, whose father taught her to converse with him in Latin, German, English, and French, attended the University of Debrecen, studying Latin and Hungarian, and went on to work as a teacher throughout the German and Soviet occupations of Hungary in 1944 and 1945. In 1947, she published two volumes of poetry, Bárány (The Lamb), and Vissza az emberig (Return to Man), for which she received the Baumgartner Prize in 1949. Under Communist rule, this early critical success became a liability, and Szabó turned to writing fiction: Her first novel, Freskó (Fresco), came out in 1958, followed closely by Az őz (The Fawn). In 1959 she won the József Attila Prize, after which she went on to write many more novels, among them Katalin utca (Katalin Street, 1969), Ókút (The Ancient Well, 1970), Régimódi történet (An Old-Fashioned Tale, 1971), and Az ajtó (The Door, 1987). In 2015, the first American publication of The Door was named one of ten best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review. Szabó also wrote verse for children, plays, short stories, and nonfiction, including a tribute to her husband, Tibor Szobotka, a writer and translator who died in 1982. A member of the European Academy of Sciences and a warden of the Calvinist Theological Seminary in Debrecen, Szabó died in the town in which she was born, a book in her hand.
George Szirtes is a poet and translator of Hungarian literature. He is the author of the poetry collections The Slant Door (winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize), Bridge Passages, and Reel (winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize). He is a recipient of the 2013 Best Translated Book Award for his translation of László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango and was one of two translators who received prizes when Krasznahorkai won the 2015 Man Booker International Prize. Szirtes’s New and Collected Poems was published in 2008.
"'The Door' has a vitality undimmed by time or translation. Its emotional ferocity, moral urgency and tincture of black magic made it feel new and urgent. 'Iza’s Ballad’ is no less relevant, a trenchant, unadulterated drama of old age and the loss of meaning…George Szirtes’s translation captures the story’s emotional turmoil at no cost to its clarity or directness. Even after years of obscurity, this novel has the breath and pulse of a living thing." —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
"Some books, like some people, require great patience and attention to fully understand their complexity and beauty. Szabo teaches us lucky readers this very lesson through Iza’s Ballad, one that perfect but songless Iza could never learn.” —Lauren Groff, The New York Times
"New York Review of Books Classics did English-speaking readers an enormous service when it published Hungarian writer Magda Szabo's tense and rending 'The Door' in 2015, and it has us another with this fall's release of her elegiac and elemental novel, 'Iza's Ballad.'...Szabo deftly explores not only the complications of life under communism in the mid-20th century, but also the idiosyncratic and individual failures of empathy that infiltrate human life no matter the time or place. She exposes how, in spite of ourselves, we often espouse and admire the noblest ideals even as we hurt and neglect the people who should be closest to us...Hermann Hesse, one of Szabo's mentors, once said of her, 'With Frau Szabo, you have caught a golden fish. Buy all of her novels, the ones she is writing and the ones she will write.' With 'Iza's Ballad' available in English, readers here in the States have — and should not miss — an additional chance to bask in Szabo's gold." —Kathleen Rooney, The Chicago Tribune
"This rich novel is a startling reminder that it is possible to speak regularly, and with good intentions, to family members without ever coming an inch closer to understanding one another." —Priyanka Kumar, Santa Fe New Mexican
“[A] compelling, affecting and a fascinating parable of mid-20th century progress… a study of the spaces between people, and what those represent.” —Pasha Malla, The Globe and Mail
“[A] heartbreakingly beautiful novel...Szirtes conveys both the sophistication and simplicity of Szabó’s narrative in a superb translation......Just as The Door won an immediate English-language following, Iza’s Ballad is bound to become one of the most loved books of the year.” —The Irish Times
"Magda Szabo's work casts an indirect light upon the dimness that exists between our public and private selves, a place wherein our betrayals—both personal and political—flicker uneasily over the walls...Iza's Ballad should solidify Szabo's standing as a master novelist amongst her English-language readers." —Dustin Ilingworth, LitHub
“A ruthless exploration of the damage we inflict on one another in the name of love.” —The Independent
“Ghosts, angels, and demons hover in this quiet meditation on grief, love, and history." —Kirkus
“The writing has a lovely clarity and a relevance that is timeless.” —Kate Saunders, The Times (London) “Szabó nails with incisive clarity the painful dynamics between the two [central] characters...A perceptive study of family relationships, bereavement and old age, it is harrowingly beautiful.” —Juanita Coulson, The Lady