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- Paperback $12.87
- Publisher: PUSHKIN PRESS
- Format: Paperback | 208 pages
- Dimensions: 118mm x 158mm x 20mm | 181g
- Publication date: 1 October 2008
- Publication City/Country: London
- ISBN 10: 1901285790
- ISBN 13: 9781901285796
- Edition: Special edition
- Edition statement: Gift edition
- Illustrations note: black & white illustrations
- Sales rank: 621,433
The King is bored, weighed down by his vast military cloak and all the other impediments to commonplace adventure. So he organises a coup against himself, and abandons his ancient throne. But what should one whose only experience is that of an absolute ruler do with himself? Why, become a con-man of course! So he decides to impersonate himself, pass himself off as the ex-king Oliver VII. All of this leads to one of the oldest sources of comedy, the total inversion of identity, the piling up of paradoxes according to the fashion of the times. A playful reworking of one of the most interesting questions of existentialism: what is the Self? Szerb offered this book as a translation from a non-existent English writer, A H Redcliff...Typical Szerb humor, or a reflection of the fact that as a 'rootless cosmopolitan' his own work was banned? Under the increasing persecution of the Nazi regime, Szerb was stopped from teaching at Szeged University in 1943.
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ANTAL SZERB was born in 1901 into a cultivated Budapest family of Jewish descent. Graduating in German and English, he rapidly established himself as a prolific scholar, publishing books on drama and poetry, studies of Ibsen and Blake, and histories of English, Hungarian, and world literature. His first novel, The Pendragon Legend, was written in 1934. Journey by Moonlight appeared in 1937, followed in 1943 by The Queen's Necklace and various volumes of novellas. He died in the forced-labour camp at Balf in January 1945.
By Nigel Rodgers 15 Aug 2011
The Pushkin Press deserves congratulations for publishing its series of elegant,reasonably-priced books resurrecting forgotten masters of central European literature. None is more masterly than the Jewish Hungarian Antal Szerb, famous in the 1920s and 30s, murdered in the Second World War by Nazis and totally forgotten until recently.
This short novel - novella, really - is set partly in Venice but mostly in Alturia, a fictitious kingdom in Mitteleuropa, closer in spirit to Ruritania than Hungary. If the whole book does not quite live up to the scintillating wit of its opening, it makes a hugely enjoyable read. Like Joseph Roth, another great Jewish writer from the last days of Austro-Hungary, Szerb betrays a distinct nostalgia for the Habsburg monarchy. The Oliver VII of the title is a monarch who would rather not be king - until, that is, love persuades him otherwise. Unlike Roth's often mordant works, this is an effervescent comedy without a trace of bitterness, its levity recalling a Franz Lehar operetta. Such light-heartedness is remarkable for a work written in the depths of the Second World War, when the Jewish population was facing increasing persecution. (Szerb himself declined to escape to safety abroad.)
"Szerb belongs with the master novelists of the 20th century" PAUL BAILEY Daily Telegraph "May Szerb"s re-entry into our literary pantheon be definitive" ALBERTO MANGUEL Financial Times