The Flower Show and the Toth Family (Paperback)
The Flower Show and The Toth Family, two novellas in one volume by István Örkény (1912-79), introduce to an English-speaking audience a Hungarian writer with a keen sense of the absurdities of modern life. In the ’60s and ’70s, Örkény’s vein of black comedy earned him the epithet “master of the grotesque” for the popular dramatizations of these and other novels. The Flower Show (1977) is Örkény’s last novel and his most widely translated work of fiction. With consummate irony, the author exploits our universal unease in the face of death, the desire to “star” taken to its ultimate absurdity by playing the lead in one’s own demise, and the voyeurism of the modern media. In The Toth Family (1967) a mad army major on leave terrorizes a village fireman and his family, forcing them to cut and fold endless quantities of cardboard packing boxes every night until dawn. Originally written as a film script, the novel’s scenes flicker past in lunatic array as Örkény satirizes Hungary of the early ’40s and the acquiescence of a quasi-feudal, nationalistic, caste-ridden society to the authoritarian state of Nazi Germany. The impression is as if the Marx Brothers had been born out of Dr. Strangelove.
About the Author
István Örkény is one of the few Hungarian writers whose works and name have spread beyond the borders of East Europe. Though he wrote only a handful of works (five plays and several short stories), a few of these won him international acclaim, particularly The Toth Family in play form and Cateplay, successfully present at Arena Stage, the Guthrie Theatre, and the Manhattan Theatre Club. When asked why he didn’t produce more work, Örkény answered with characteristic frankness: “I write only when I get an idea.” Örkény was born in Budapest in 1912. Though he wanted to be a writer early on, his father demanded that he study pharmacy. After five years, his diploma in hand, Örkény was ready to begin writing, but his father insisted that he get a degree in chemical engineering. Five years later, on completing this course of study too, he was drafted, fought on the Eastern front for a year, and spent four years in a Soviet prison camp. After his release, Örkény was free to write at last; but he found that the oppressive atmosphere of hard-line Communism in the ‘50s was hardly hospitable to his special style of mocking wit. It was not until the thaw of the ‘60s that Örkény came into his own as a writer. After enjoying years of international success, he died in the summer of 1979.