Tag Archives: peter nadas

Peter Nadas Interview

Last week I was talking about the huge fall title, Parallel Stories. It’s still months till November, but FSG is already getting the Peter Nadas Parallel Stories publicity engine moving. Up on their blog, Work in Progress, they’ve got an interview with the author.

Here’s an interesting exchange:

Károlyi: You wrote an article called “Structure and Plot Patterns in Parallel Stories,” in which you formulated the creative problem at the crux of the novel. You wrote: “I could no longer escape the thought that prose writing actually works as the maid-servant of causal thinking.” Your aim was “to write the stories of people who can’t ever have met, who have only a very superficial knowledge of each other, and yet interfere most profoundly with each other’s lives.” I can see that your characters are intertwined even more closely than that, though, and still, the whole thing does not fall to pieces or become chaotic. As if the plan had been more radical than its realization. And in any case the reader will insist on deciphering on a causal basis, no matter what.

Nádas: And they will succeed, too. I try to leave open the points that offer clues for this deciphering. Not in all cases, though.

We constantly strive to control the effect of our words or actions. The question is what sort of qualities this effort produces in other people. I have no guarantees concerning the perceptions of others. I tried to take all of this into account when I created connections between the different people, plot lines, or historical periods.

And then some systems are identical, others are similar, and yet others are different. We can say that people act along similar or even identical lines because they had similar upbringings or are constitutionally alike. And there are also differences according to these criteria—when, for example, you do something or other not because that’s the way you were socialized, but because you’re going against your socialization, following your instincts, or acting upon

your convictions. People can have direct and strong interactions; there are cases of both direct and indirect impact: when A has influenced B but does not know C, who was influenced by B, then, although A doesn’t know it, he or she actually influenced C. A causal relationship always tries to stick to being unequivocal, but I tried not to lose sight of the multivalence of things. This naturally yielded structures that no longer fit into the structure of causal thinking. Naturally, causation isn’t entirely absent but it falls into a totally different context or exists in a different space from the start.

For the Curious

Some more pics of Parallel Stories.

Here’s the title page:

Here’s a spread. As you can see, the text fills up the page. As for reading, I’m finding it much faster than A Book of Memories, although mostly because that book was so so slow to read. But, yes, at any rate much text per page.

And finally, I’m supposing the cover art will end up being based on this. I don’t see any info on the book, but I’d be surprised if this wasn’t an Andre Kertesz photo.

Just How Big Is Peter Nadas’ Parallel Stories?

Hungarian author Peter Nadas wrote one of my favorite novels in recent memory: it was A Book of Memories, published in English translation in 2008 by Picador and clocking in at a chunky 720 pages. Memorably, in the New York Review Deborah Eisenberg wrote in a piece entitled “The Genius of Peter Nadas“:

And although it’s certain, insofar as anything can be, that Péter Nádas would have become an extraordinary writer no matter what his circumstances, life in Hungary under a Soviet-backed regime has left a burning imprint on his writing. His work’s frank claims to be on a high level, its ambition, assurance, rigor, and tone of urgency, as well as the extent to which it sometimes makes free with the reader’s stamina, not only suggest irrepressible artistic and moral force but also seem unburdened by personal arrogance. What is at issue for him, clearly, is to discover truth and tell it in whatever way possible.

This fall FSG is publishing Nadas’ titanic (there is no other word) Parallel Stories, 15 years in the writing and 5 years in the translating. How big is it? I took some photos for comparison’s sake:

First of all, let’s put it up against WIlliam T. Vollmann’s gargantuan Fathers and Crows, a big book from a guy who knows about writing big books.

Parallel Stories: 1152 pages
Fathers and Crows by William T. Vollmann: 1008 pages

Nadas v. Vollmann? Advantage Nadas.

What about The Recognitions, a notably huge book?

Parallel Stories: 1152 pages
The Recognitions by William Gaddis: 976 pages

Nadas v. Gaddis? Advantage Nadas.

Then there’s everybody’s go-to book when thinking of huge books, War and Peace (which, in fact, is name-checked on the back copy of Parallel.)

Parallel Stories: 1152 pages
War and Peace by Tolstoy: 1200 pages

Too close to call. Let’s go to the photo:

In fact, the photo is deceptive on this one, as the Norton critical edition uses transparently thin paper. But given all the critical apparatus that comes with the Norton, I have to give this one to Parallel Stories.

Nadas v. Tolstoy? Advantage Nadas.

You can even stack this book up against a trilogy–like Cormac McCarthy’s masterful Border Trilogy.

Parallel Stories: 1152 pages
The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy: 1056 pages

Nadas v. McCarthy? Advantage Nadas.

And then there’s the size of Nadas’ own prior Book of Memories.

Parallel Stories: 1152 pages
A Book of Memories by Peter Nadas: 720 pages

Nadas v. Nadas? Advantage Nadas.

About the only thing I could find to rival Parallel Stories was the legendarily long Infinite Jest, which, though a dab shorter by pagecount has much bigger pages and packs in more words per page.

Parallel Stories: 1152 pages
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace: 1104 pages

Nadas v. Wallace? Let’s go to the photo.

You call it.


I can’t tell if this is one of the most useless books ever created or one of the funniest jokes I’ve seen in a while.


* One day the gods will reveal what we, the American reading public, have done to make them to inflict geniuses like this on our book sections

* What are the essential essays of textual criticism after 1985?

* Chad Post discusses the somewhat prohibitively expensive pricing of books in Argentina. Compared to other parts of Latin America, I don’t think the Argentine book buyer is that badly off, although I do agree that the costs probably do stifle some readers. For more on this topic, see my column about overly expensive books.

* Classical music criticism becomes the latest form of cultural critique to be designated unnecessary by newspapers

* Illinois: American translation powerhouse. (You’re not going to take this lying down, New York City, are you?)

* Chad Post becomes the latest reader to fall under Senselessness’s sway. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Katherine Silver about her translation of this book, and I’m hoping I’ll find a venue interested in publishing some of the things she had to say about this incredible novel.

* Speaking of, for all you Senselessness fans out there, New Directions is planning to publish another of Moya’s books at some point


* A nice piece on the British writer Anna Kavan, who I haven’t read yet (though I hope not for long):

The received view is that Kavan’s later writing, her increasing tendency to represent the world as some threatening, scarcely comprehensible mechanism dedicated to the crushing of her characters’ hopes and longings, and the stylistic means adopted to these ends, had its source in traumatic events occurring around 1938-39: the collapse of her second marriage, mental breakdown, successive suicide attempts, discovery of Kafka. Her previous works, written under her first married name of Helen Ferguson, have been labelled – again by Rhys Davies – ‘home counties novels’. But it is far less straightforward than that.

Her first published book, A Charmed Circle (1929), opens with a chapter devoted to the external aspect of the vicarage in which the action will take place, describing how its rural isolation has, over the years, been encroached upon by ‘…mean streets that devoured the unresisting land. Fields were eaten away almost in a night. People went for their yearly holidays and returned four short weeks later to find the landscape strangely altered.’ This only lasts a page; but, by the time we have read it, we are already in the grip of a chilling objectivity whose fearfulness owes nothing to any invocation of the supernatural. Still more adventurous in style is her third book, Let Me Alone (1930); and this introduces us to a character called Anna Kavan.

* The Economist on Hammer & Tickle, a history of Communism told through its jokes.

But the aim of “Hammer & Tickle” is not just to be amusing and
poignant, but also to instruct. The author makes the (to him) rather
depressing discovery that most communist-era jokes were just recycled
versions of older ones. Take this example, which is told twice in the
book: a flock of sheep approaches the Finnish border in a panic,
pleading to be allowed entry. “Beria [Stalin’s secret police chief] has
ordered the arrest of all elephants,” they explain. “But you’re not
elephants,” reply the Finnish border guards in puzzlement. “Yes, but
try explaining that to Beria.” That sounds spot-on for the Soviet Union
in the 1930s. But it can be traced to a Persian poet in 12th-century
Arabia, where it involves a fox running away from a royal ordinance
that in theory applies only to donkeys.


* I linked to this on Tuesday, but I want to mention it again for the simple reason that Peter Nadas sounds like one author I need to read immediately:

His titanic novel A Book of Memories — which has been subsequently outweighed by his 1,500-page Parallel Stories,
finished in 1995 but not yet available in English — was written over a
period of more than ten years. Its dense and intricate plot unfolds at
mesmerizingly close range. Specific information tends to appear only
obliquely or incidentally; it takes some time for us to orient
ourselves and to understand that the narrator, whom we first encounter
in Berlin, is in love with a young man who has just disappeared,
presumably to the West, and that both of them are also emotionally
involved with a well-known actress. Sections of the book that deal with
this period of the narrator’s life alternate with sections about his
childhood in Stalinist Budapest. A second voice, that of a dissolute
aesthete and anarchist, who we come to realize is an invention of the
first narrator’s, braids itself between these settings, and toward the
end of the book, a third narrator — an important childhood friend of
the first — takes over for a while. . . .

Scrutiny is fundamental to the milieu Nadas portrays, where every
intimacy creates new ambiguities and new ground for betrayal, and
there’s no work I know that examines so atomically the composition of
an instant of experience — the interstices of that instant; at times
it’s miniaturization writ almost too large to take in.

* The NYRB has published its "Summer Fiction Issue," which means that they’ve actually covered a reasonable amount of fiction. Most of the good stuff is free online. They’ve even serialized fiction from Per Petterson, but you’ve got to pay for it.

* Benjamin Kunkel on Netherland:

O’Neill, that is, is working in a recognisably British mode of
novel-writing marked by a combination of decorous prose, lyrical
flights, well-carpentered plots and occasional injections of noirish
material (we learn in the first pages of Chuck’s handcuffed body being
retrieved from Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal), and he wants to adapt this
mode – its exemplar is Ian McEwan – to the American soil of the book’s
themes or subject matter: multicultural brotherhood, immigrant
self-fashioning in the New World, post-9/11 New York. This compact
novel, in which an emotionally buttoned-down new arrival recounts the
downfall of another recent transplant who is, by contrast with him, an
extravagant dreamer, has won admiring comparisons to that most American
of novels, The Great Gatsby. Further associations between the
two books may be triggered by the fact that both narrators,
Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway and O’Neill’s Hans, work in finance, the
former in bonds, the latter in oil futures.


* Listen to the PEN World Voices discussion of Robert Walser. Also see our review of his novel, The Assistant.

The Rest

* In his day, Dickens was the victim of imposters who wrote knockoffs of some of his best works. Kind of makes you question the reading abilities of the 19th-century British middle class.

* Apple fetishists can see what the new MacBook Pro is going to look like, via leaked images


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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