Borders of the Heart

Zoltán Poós
Novel (Kalligram), 2009, 257 pages

„A few years after the marriage, at the time when young women usually give up the fight for the attention of men, some lecherous beauty began to show on Katinka, which annoyed most people. She was always looking here and there, as if she were waiting for something.”

Set during two decisive days twenty years apart – the 23rd of September, 1944, when the Russian troops invade the home town of the protagonist, and he falls in love with a childhood friend at the same time, and the 23rd of September, 1964, when after ten years of marriage, the divorce of the couple is finally declared in communist Hungary – this two-faced novel tells the story of a little country town near the borders of Romania, and the gradual decline of it’s most revered aristocratic family, the Beliczeys.

László Beliczey is the young heir and only child of the family, roaming the immense estate’s gardens, woods and fields as corners of a personal paradise, living a happy life surrounded with tradition, good manners and religious rituals in the vast chambers of the family mansion, and constantly flirting with childish innocence – and childish eroticism – with an orphan girl from around the household, Katinka. Their mutual attraction peaks on the very day the Russian troops invade Hungary (then an ally of nazi Germany), when the godfather of Katinka dies, and László manages to save her to live with his family. Among the thundering sounds of grenades and machine guns, hiding from the Russian troops which go through the land stealing and raping, they have their first kiss on the way to the family mansion, and promise to love each other for life.

The second part of the novel tells their story from the opposite direction: looking back from the day in 1964 when their divorce is declared after that Katinka quit László for the new dentist in town. In the sixties, the Beliczeys are no longer the powerful and wealthy family they once were: their mansion is torn down after being commandeered by the communist regime and then taken apart by the local villagers; they do not own their lands anymore, and László, who once graduated as a doctor is not allowed to practice his profession because of his involvement in the 1956 revolution, no matter how little it was. In a series of flashbacks, just as we saw the whole of László’s childhood through that one day of his first kiss, here we see the entire process of how the love and the marriage of László and Katinka falls apart, despite the fact that at the time everyone, including themselves, thought they were „meant to be” together.

Zoltán Poós is well known in Hungary for his obsession for the little things of the past – he even published a monographic book on socialist knick-knacks and another one of the pop songs of the time – and his minutious care graces the reader with a surprisingly detailed picture of both the late feudal world of the Thirties and the Fourties, and the much less glamourous times of the Fifties and the Sixties, when the spirit of dictature hovers above everything one does or thinks. Borders of the Heart evokes the time about which Antal Szerb and Sándor Márai wrote their most heart-rending works, and also shows the times that competely destoryed everything connected to that world – all this through the blossoming and the decay of a childhood romance gone wrong.



„Borders of the Heart is a real revelation, giving the reader that exceptional joy when one feels to have discovered a writer whose works one will most probably like in the future, and will surely expect his new ones. Zoltán Poós contiunes the most beautiful traditions of Hungarian literature, her protagonist Katinka Herter is already fiddling about among our literature’s best female characters.”
Zoltán Hegyi, Magyar Nemzet

„Private life and public affairs together – Zoltán Poós in his new novel examines quite convincingly the most interesting and most important question of Hungarian literature in the 20th century. The teenage László Beliczey is the son of a big aristocratic family, but lives at the wrong time and the wrong place. […] The Second World War sweeps through the little border town where he lives, while the young Beliczey finds love, and could even attain happiness too, if the writer of Borders of the Heart would believe in happy endings. But Poós follows the footsteps of Antal Szerb and Sándor Márai, and is more interested in the big questions of life, without happy endings. We are roaming through historical places, in a little border town which from time to time reveals itself as the home town of the author, Battonya, becoming both in the whirlwind of the war, and after the 1956 revolution, a symbol of defeated Hungary, of the destiny of Hungarians. […] Zoltán Poós is well informed about the events of big politics as well as the little details of life, and knows exactly what one could buy in an ÁFÉSZ-store at the time, how did the porch of a house look like fifty years ago, and wether the communist ministers had cabbage heads, or not.”
László Szentesi Zöldi, Magyar Hírlap

Borders of the Heart is not just the story of a divorce, it is also about decay. Not about death exactly of course, and not about some grand, pathetic process of dissolution. Simply about change, erosion, about how things are destined to end. And this applies not only to love, but the surrounding world too, the slow bastardization of Hungary and the character of it’s inhabitants.”
Gábor Kálmán, Könyves Blog


Zoltán Poós was born in 1970 in Battonya. Since 1992 he has published four books of poetry and three novels. He has also written a book of essays on the emblematic objects of the sixties and the seventies, and on the 50-year history of Hungarian pop music. He was the founding editor of the WAN2 pop-cultural magazine and works as a journalist. His play Insults was published in 2010 and won several awards.

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