“Our life is full of ghosts and passions – things in which Satan wins,” says Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai about the title of his high-profile debut.
S Satan’s tango announced a paradigm shift in Hungarian literature in 1985 and spoke on several levels about the perverse workings of the system.
The writer spoke about his work at the Fabula festival, where his visit was accompanied by a Slovenian translation of his high-profile debut (it was published in translation Marjance Mihelič and at the publishing house Beletrina, which is also the organizer of the festival), which experienced a resounding screen adaptation directed by the director Bela Tarra. At a literary evening in Cankarjev dom, the writer, who has been awarded several times (including with an elf), said that he once did not think he would be a writer. During the rebellious years of his life, he worked for a while as a night watchman on a farm. One night, he and his colleague slaughtered several dozen heads of cattle. “When we finished work, I saw the sun. But it wasn’t yellow, but brown. That’s when I decided to write my first book,” he said.
Five years later it was created Satan’s Tango. It was published in 1985 during the period of the Hungarian People’s Republic, when works such as the author’s were under the watchful eye of the then communist regime. With the help of the writer Pétra Esterházy convinced the then editor of the publishing house Magveta to publish the work. “The editor published Satan’s Tango mainly to prove his courage and autonomy. As far as I know, he previously held a high position in the secret political police,” recalls Krasznahorkai.
Satan’s Tango tells the story of the false prophet Irimias, who leads the villagers to the promised land under the pretext of hope for a better future, before extorting their last savings. In the end, it turns out that the whole thing is not only a hoax by a skilled con artist, but also a malfeasance by a Secret Service agent.
The writer said at the interview that he does not recommend reading the Hungarian original, that in reality we cannot even know what he wrote if we do not speak Hungarian, because “every word of the Slovenian translation was written by the translator Marjanca Mihelič”.
He also remembered his longtime colleague and friend Béla Tarr, with whom he made several films in 1994, including the seven and a half hour long Satan’s Tango. The writer believes that the book probably wouldn’t have reached such a large number of readers if it weren’t for the movie.
The author, who has received numerous domestic and prestigious foreign literary awards for his work, including the Brücke-Berlin award (2010), prima primissima (2012), vilenica (2014), and in 2015, as the first Hungarian, also the prestigious man booker award, he is also often mentioned among the writers who could be in the running for the Nobel Prize.
“Every year I hear that I’m nominated for the Nobel Prize, but I’m old and I hope it doesn’t happen.” At the same time, he adds that awards bring the most joy to mothers, but he has been gone for many years.