NikiThe Story of a Dog
by Tibor Déry, introduction by George Szirtes, translated from the Hungarian by Edward Hyams
“The Dog adopted the Ancsas in the spring of ‘48”: so the story begins. The Ancsas are a middle-aged couple living on the outskirts of Budapest in a ruinous Hungary that is just beginning to wake up from the nightmare of World War II. The new Communist government promises to set things straight, and Mr. Ancsa, an engineer, is as eager to get to work building the future as he is to forget the past. The last thing he has time for is a little mongrel bitch, pregnant with her first litter. But Niki knows better, and before long she is part of the Ancsa household. The Ancsas even take her along with them when Mr. Ancsa’s new job requires a move to an apartment in the city.
Then Mr. Ancsa is swept up in a political crackdown—disappearing without a trace. For five years he does not return, five years of absence, silence, fear, and the constant struggle to survive—five years during which Mrs. Ancsa and Niki have only each other.
The story of Niki, an ordinary dog, and the Ancsas, a no less ordinary couple, is an extraordinarily touching, utterly unsentimental, parable about caring, kindness, and the endurance of love.
[A]n extraordinary novel...It is Niki's sheer dogginess, so perfectly rendered throughout, that is at the heart of this novel's greatness.
— Katherine A. Powers, The Boston Globe
One of Hungary's leading novelists...Mr. Dery brings a kind of cunning naivete that records (or imagines) with utmost seriousness all the tremors of Niki's soul. He puts, as it were, the psychological realism of the contemporary novel at the disposal of a fox terrier.
— The New York Times
Outstanding Hungarian novelist and imprisoned hero of the 1956 revolution.
— The Nation
Niki is a masterpiece, like Of Mice and Men, of the presentation of "Man's inhumanity to man."
— Richard Church
In Niki there is nothing mawkish: one's heart is truly touched. By centering his seemingly artless story on the figure of a dog—that humblest, most poignant, and tenacious symbol of devotion, of the need to be attached—Tibor Déry has done more than present a contemporary political and human tragedy; he has illumined what might be called canine situation under the aspect of eternity.
— Rosamond Lehmann
[Déry's stories] remind me of stories by Tolstoy, Chekhov, Verga, Lawrence and Hemingway. Here is one of the outstanding writers of the twentieth century.
— Ben Sonnenberg
Tibor Déry has few equals among writers in Hungarian...[He] is one of the...masters of that great tradition of European realism that we associated with the name of Thomas Mann, and he deserves our close attention.
— Times Literary Supplement (London)