‘The Notebook Trilogy’ by Ágota Kristóf

The-Notebook-Trilogy-CoverMieke Chew at The Sydney Review of Books:

Ágota Kristóf was born in Csikvánd, a Hungarian village, in 1935. On foot she fled her home country in 1956, during the Hungarian uprising, as part of a small group that included her husband and infant daughter. They walked for hours in darkness afraid they were going round and round in circles and would soon be arrested, still in Hungary. Having successfully crossed into Austria, she travelled, by bus and train, to Switzerland. She had two bags, one containing diapers, clothes, and things for her baby, the other dictionaries. Completely by chance, she arrived in a Francophone city, where, she writes, ‘I confront a language that is totally unknown to me.’

Kristóf’s estrangement from language gave her a special distance from the syntax of quotidian speech. Her prose is rigorously simple in its grammar. Not a single word is wasted. As she explains in her memoir, ‘I know I will never write French as native French writers do, but I will write it as I am able to, as best as I can.’ Kristóf’s arduous and determined path to literacy in her adopted language, in a country she did not choose, gave rise to a radical prose style. Kristóf’s expression has an air of purity; her rigor and labor working as a kind of distillation process. She did not think to write in Hungarian. French, she has said, ‘killed my mother tongue.’ She had no choice but to accept French. But, as one of her translators, Nina Bogin, writes, her background created a special kind of prose: ‘French written through the prism of Kristóf’s native language, Hungarian.’

more here.