Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for Géza Gárdonyi, and some really good books

Short and sweet post, after all the crazy.
I am always on the lookout for good Hungarian literature published in English. There is, unfortunately, not a lot. However, I and happy to say that at least the two best books of one of our most famous novelists, Géza Gárdonyi, have been published in a fairly good English translation.

The Eclipse of the Crescent Moon (Egri csillagok) is the one book every single Hungarian person has to read in school. Sadly, we usually read it before we get to the corresponding curriculum in history, so generations of seventh graders have learned to hate it (and reading in general) for reasons that have nothing to do with the story itself. It takes place during the Turkish wars in the 16th century, when the Hungarian kingdom was repeatedly invaded by the Ottoman army. In 1552, a single castle, Eger, manned with barely more than 200 people stood the siege of the entire army for weeks. It is an epic tale of an epic battle, fairly accurate historically, and full of adventure. Definitely worth a read.

Although I do love Eclipse, my favorite book by Gárdonyi is another historical novel, published in English as Slave of the Huns (the original title, The Invisible Man, was sadly already taken). I have recently found out that Attila the Hun is still taught in many American schools as an evil monster, which is kind of mind boggling for me, since I come from a country where we pretty much think of Attila the same way Western Europeans think of King Arthur. This book is written from the perspective of a young Greek boy, Zeta, who becomes enslaved to a Hun nobleman in Attila's camp, and slowly learns to understand and even like the Huns. The book does not only offer a glimpse into the eclectic Hun world and the personality of their legendary leader, but it also contains the all-time most epic battle scene I have ever seen in historical fiction. And believe me, I read a lot.


  1. Attila, a good guy? Well. I thought he was undisputedly evil. Must read this book. Thanks!

  2. The difference between Arthur and Attila is fiction and non-fiction.
    Too bad there is so little Hungarian literature (in English). In general?
    Raising a Dragon

    1. It's more of the fault of oversimplifying history. There always needs to be a bad guy and a good guy, because there can't be good people on both sides. People take the easy way out of explaining old history, and the easiest way is to say that Attila was a monster. Which still ticks me off every time I hear it... :D

  3. So glad to have found your blog. New follower here. I'm stopping by from the "A to Z" and I look forward to visiting again.


  4. You are right, Csenga. Everything we know about Hungary we learned from Zsa Zsa Gabor! We are pitiful! Though I see on the blurry fringes of my mind something about the St. Stephen's flag, bell-shaped skirts, and magyar horsemen. Still pitiful!--(Mary Grace Ketner whose Open ID credentials could not be verified and whose identity on wordpress, I apparently do not own.)

  5. Books! I've added so many great books to my reading list through this challenge, and I'm going to add these two as well. But I'll have to look for them on Abe's Books. Amazon is selling them for ridiculous prices. ;_;

  6. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll keep them in mind the next time I go book shopping :D