Zsuzsa Rakovszky
Novel (Magvető), 2011, 394 pages

“All you see is flesh and bones, only whatever can be touched and measured… but you don’t know anything about the inner truth, the truth of the soul!”

RIGHTS SOLD TO: French (Actes Sud), Turkish (Yapi Kredi), Italian (Dalai), Bulgarian (Geia Libris)

„On 4th November, 1889, the father-in-law of a certain Countess V., complained that the latter had swindled him out of 800f., under the pretence of requiring a bond as secretary of a stock company. It was ascertained that Sandor had entered into matrimonial contracts and escaped from the nuptials in the spring of 1889; and, more than this, that this ostensible Count Sandor was no man at all, but a woman in male attire Sarolta (Charlotte), Countess V. […] S. was arrested, and, on account of deception and forgery of public documents, brought to examination. At the first hearing S. confessed that she was born on the 6th Sept., 1866; that she was a female, Catholic, single, and worked as an authoress under the name of Count Sandor V.” – writes Richard von Krafft-Ebing in his notorious Psychopathia Sexualis (1889) in one of the first case-studies of female-to-male transsexualism.

And it is this Count Sándor / Sarolta Vay who is the protagonist of Zsuzsa Rakovszky’s new novel, bursting with extreme sensibility, lust for love, and pain that even challenges the will of God. Sarolta lives her life as Sándor, entangled in love affairs with girls and women, her tragedy being that in the cruel mirror of the world, from time to time she has to face her real self: Sarolta, whom nature meant her to be, and it’s only her monogram, V.S. (as in Hungarian, the family name always comes first) that this maddening conflict can be resolved.

The present time of the novel is the period between 1889 and 1901. The prison diaries of V.S. after his „detection”, his poems, his desperate love letters for his wife, his autobiography and the medical documents of the doctor examining him are wowen together to tell the ill-fated story of a 19th-century romantic soul in the form a gripping novel, all in front of the background of the 1848-49 revolutions, the political and sentimental desires, memories, hopes and disappointments after the reconciliation of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the aristocratic world on the verge of disappearance, the golden age of theatre and the thriving cultural life of Old Europe.

While in the outside world, the revolution of science and technology, of philosophy and teology are at hand, in this human being the chemistry and biology of the flesh and the soul stand up against society’s verdict on this case of „abnormality”. Can someone who was born as a woman feel and live like a man? Can he love women in a way that they both become complete in love?

A Jane Austen-esque tour de force of literary portraiture, this new novel of the internationally acclaimed writer Zsuzsa Rakovszky follows closely the historical events of the uncommon life of Sarolta Vay, giving a unique voice to it’s unique protagonist, with all the highs and lows and emotional outbursts of a restless, romantic soul. It invites the reader to a sentimental journey in time, guiding us through all the embarrassing questions that the unbelievable life story of Sándor / Sarolta Vay poses to our present day.




„Intensive first-person narration has always been one of the greatest strengths of Rakovszky’s art—not only in prose, but also in poetry—and this is true of her new novel as well. A Rakovszky sentence glances into the depth of human faces; it records the ultimate words that can be said aloud at all, and comes as close as possible to sensual realities. There is no reality, there are only realities. The great debate of the medical doctor and VS can be summarized as the truth of the body vs. the truth of the soul.”
János Szegő, Magyar Narancs (read the complete review in English)

„[In VS] we encounter with such a human border-situation – as the existentialists would have said some time ago – which is, altough being extremely rare, sheds an exceptionally sharp light on a lot of questions, and not just questions of gender, but others too. It is a contribution to a lot of current, very important debates in our culture, most of all the debate on the big subjective turn of modern civilisation. There are very few novels in our contemporary Hungarian literature that do this. But VS is one of them.”
József Takáts, Élet és irodalom

„Poetic sentiment – sentimental poetry – poetic prose: it is on this tightly interwowen thread of cause and effect that the both exceptional and conventional story of V.S. takes us through, where we see a poetic soul wrestling with the prose of reality; while convincing him/herself – and maybe the more sentimental part of the readers – that the fiction (s)he made up is more true and therefore more valid than the verdict of the outer world.”
Sándor Bazsányi, Litera.hu



Zsuzsa Rakovszky was born in 1950 in Sopron. One of the most critically acclaimed poets of Hungary and a renowned translator of English literature, she has written three novels, a collection of short stories, and several books of poetry. Her first novel, A kígyó árnyéka (The Shadow of the Snake) was translated into three languages (German / btb, 2005; Dutch / Van Gennep, 2007; Italian / Baldini Castoldi, 2007). More on the author

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