Novel (Kalligram), 2009, 288 pages
„The toad is a degenerate frog – said Hitler, turning back from the door of the Pumpkin Soup – Who knows what it eats. Certainly something it doesn’t fancy at all.”
The author has opted for a provocative title for his latest novel – the sort of title that has one do a double-take. Unrolling a plot with several strands that becomes ever more intricate, the book takes advantage of the freedom and spontaneity of fiction to make the factual basis and reality of the history of the twentieth century even more radical. That is a dangerous, risky game – positively serious. Csaplár is well aware of that. His omniscient narrator is low-key and cool, yet determined, otherwise how are we supposed to believe that a young political radical at the very start of his career and who paints, not corny still lifes, but dreadful historical visions, would father a child by Fanny Kucor, a kitchen maid in a Hungarian eating-house in Munich, and Jewish to boot.
The narrator unexpectedly pops up at the most diverse places in Europe and Hungary’s history. One can sense in the finest of the episodes Csaplár’s experience with writing film scripts: he has a remarkable talent for putting things over in visual terms, providing copious descriptions, giving his characters vivid vernacular, and making quick, well-judged changes of pace. The historical kaleidoscope does not omit Hungary’s winter of 1944, portraying the siege of Budapest and the Calvary that most of its inhabitants underwent from a worm’s eye view. It goes into the dilemma faced by the capital’s Jews in quite some detail. What is the best thing to do when it is already clear what they can expect, and they try to prepare themselves for it? Is it worth negotiating with the Nazis, or even possible? Can a secret deal be struck to buy human lives for gold? The narrator’s calm and collected approach, with its occasional darts of acerbic irony, is particularly important in these parts. So too when it comes to scenes from Hungary’s 1956 revolution.
The sources that the author carefully incorporates into the novel are likewise highly relevant, precisely to lend truth to the fiction. Hitler’s Daughter is a family saga that is made up of shards, splinters of fate, in order to be able to give a sense of the carnivalesque colours of the terrible history of the last century.
In 2010 the novel won the AEGON Literary Award, one of the most prestigious independent literary prizes in Hungary.
PRAISE FOR THE NOVEL
„Vilmos Csaplár’s novel, built on historical documents, legends and fairytale-like grotesque fiction is not only worthy of the German audience’s and publishers’ attention because of it’s core subject, hogy Hungarian Holocaust, but more importantly because of it’s exceptional and unique point of view on history. The book Hitler’s Daughter as reading material works as a pamphlet against all forms of racism and racial theory, like a genetic compendium, which makes a clear distinction between the roles of the victim and the wrongdoer, but at the same time, through it’s tightly woven texture, also illuminates the circumstances and unwanted changes of role that made the twentieth century so tragic. The German reader with this book can have a look at his or her own history through the fate of Hungarian characters, in a Hungarian scenery. Common history is not the subject, but the very material of Csaplár’s novel, the context of existence which is devoid of any spatial or national specificity.”
Péter Nádas, author of A Book of Memories and Parallel Stories
„There is something utterly confusing in this novel. In this story (or rather stories). Vilmos Csaplár is telling the story of this extremely dreadful era – where one couldn’t survive in a »moral« way (unless one became a victim, for ever, before being able to do anything, right or wrong) in a so colourful, so witty way and at the same time filled with so much cold seriousness (no cheap jokes), that despite of the always-hidden narrator’s impassible voice and register, this sad, upsetting, sometimes gut-wrenching story still becomes somewhat loveable in the end.”
György Szerbhorváth, Litera.hu
„The scene where the title’s Hitler has his violent way with Fanni can be read as a prototype or a satyrical focus point of all violent acts in the novel. And from this point of view, the title Hitler’s Daughter can be understood metaphorically: since if not in a biological way, but in a lot of other ways – for example as the perpetrators or victims of smaller or bigger violent acts – everybody (every character, and maybe even the reader) becomes an unwilling descendant of the legendary violators and / or victims of world history.”
Sándor Bazsányi, Kalligram Review
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vilmos Csaplár was born in 1947. He is a writer, screenwriter and current president of the Belletrist Association, one of the most important associations of acclaimed Hungarian writers. He is the author of twelve novels, a number of short stories, seven film scripts and has been the editor of several important anthologies and reviews of the past decades. Read more