János Térey
Novel in verse (Magveto), 2010, 403 pages

„If you travelled to hell, you couldn’t order
A cup of coffee in the devil’s tongue.
The annual rings of self-pity and loathing
Grow now around your young and prideful trunk.”

After his early masterpiece Paulus, written in Onegin stanzas and bringing the surprise comeback of the novel in verse into contemporary Hungarian literature, János Térey returns in his latest work to this half-forgotten genre and paints a vivid portrait our present time, the yet-unexplored life of today’s thirty-somethings who already speak foreign languages, travel around the world, have a decent salary and a life of well-tempered passion and constant ambition. His hero, Ágoston Mátrai works as Chief of Protocol in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Budapest, spending his business hours with organising state visits, receptions and other official events, accompanying the Minister of Foreign Affairs on his travels from Brussels and New York to Jerusalem and Edinburgh.

He lost his father, a botanician whom he adored, when he was young, and keeps a distant relationship with his mother, the ageing actress who no longer has any audience for herself other then her family. He is struggling between four women, who all love him more or less: Blanka, his niece, with whom he lives a half-incestuous love affair which seems to fade into mediocrity when it becomes an everyday routine; a world-class tennis starlet, who is as shallow as she is sexy and successful; Delfin, the declining opera singer who pays a cameo visit from Térey’s earlier play, Table Music; and Fruzsina, the parliament typist who promises Ágoston a new chance to find something that is worth living for. We accompany him to his romantic rendez-vous but also to his office, working his way through the everyday intrigues and affairs of the Ministry, handling a mild diplomatic crisis between Slovakia and Hungary, playing tennis with his friends, and visiting art galleries and opera performances in his free time.

This searing novel in verse is not just a portrait of Budapest after the turn of the millennium, but of the world of globalised politics at the same time: the EU district and the nice beer pubs of Brussels, the magnificent UN buildings and shady coffee bars of New York, and even the war-torn streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv come to life during Ágoston’s official travels, with grand descriptions of natural and urban landscapes from all around the globe, through the eyes of a member of the „executive class”, the strange „bourgeois-bohémien” who only started to appear in Hungarian society in the last few decades.

Told in twenty-two cantos all written in strict blank verse just like Milton’s masterwork Paradise Lost, this unique portrait of contemporary society is also a poetical meditation on the fragility of human relationships, and the sometimes hopeless pursuit for happiness on the stage of career and ambition. Mátrai is the hero of our time, who is quite similar to the type of the „useless man” of the classical nineteenth-century novels, but he is also a mirror of today’s everyman.


„With Protocol, Térey realised what is – maybe – every poet’s dream. Namely, to write a novel of which every line is pure poetry. The proportions of compression and rarefaction are perfect. It’s prose from one side, and poetry from the other. […] Reading Protocol is like arriving home to an emptied apartment, and finding a note saying: »Maybe I’ll come back.« And it is only after we sat down sadly, that we realise that we have no idea who might have sent the message, since we’ve been living alone all the time. A masterpiece.”
Tibor Babiczky, Népszabadság

„Nine years after Paulus, János Térey once again wrote a novel in verse. It is a grand endevour again: four hundred pages worth of fine mechanics regarding dramaturgy and poetics alike. There is no neutral gear in Protocol, only constant effervescence; while the action is always moving forward, we have a surprising observation on every page. […] No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find a place where the symbiosis of prose and poetry would be harmed, where one would outshine the other just for it’s own sake; the sociographical point of view is successful without ever making the characters typical. And the ending, the mixture of the final images of the penultimate canto and the poetical coda of the ultimate one, is cathartic.”
Máté Szilvay,

„May it be clothes, food, drinks, scents or places: the author describes everything with joy and great care, cleverly avoiding exaggeration. Protocol has it’s place besides Nibelung Park. This time, Térey managed to write a work of epic proportions without using any biblical or mythological scenery. […] The influences of Byron and Pushkin also stay in the background, and don’t come into focus, fortunately. And there is really no need for these »accomplices«, because this novel in verse stands proud without their aid – and is, to my mind, one of the best works the year 2010 has produced.”
Ferenc Darvasi,



János Térey was born in Debrecen in 1970, and graduated in Hungarian Literature and Linguistics from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest in 1996. In 1997–98 he worked as editor for Cosmopolitan, ever since he has been a freelance writer. He has twelve volumes to date, most of them poetry, with one volume of fiction and, lately, several verse novels and dramatic poems. Térey is arguably the most prolific and dynamic creative artist in Hungarian literature today. His energy and drive have repeatedly proved able to bring up to date and breathe new life into poetic genres that were forgotten and believed dead. More on the author

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