Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Poets
Publication Date: January 11, 2022
In a Bucolic Land
by Szilárd Borbély, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet
Szilárd Borbély spent his childhood in a tiny impoverished village in northeastern Hungary, where the archaic peasant world of Eastern Europe coexisted with the collectivist ideology of a new Communist state. Close to the Soviet border and far from any metropolitan center, the village was a world apart: life was harsh, monotonous, and often brutal, and the Borbélys, outsiders and “class enemies,” were shunned. In a Bucolic Land, Borbély’s final, posthumously published book of poems, combines autobiography, ethnography, classical mythology, and pastoral idyll in a remarkable central poetic sequence about the starkly precarious and yet strangely numinous liminal zone of his youth. This is framed by elegies for a teacher in which the poet meditates on the nature of language and speech and on the adequacy of words to speak of and for the dead. Ottilie Mulzet’s English translation conveys the full power of a writer of whom László Krasznahorkai has said, “He was a poet—a great poet—who shatters us.”
[Borbély’s] poetry is epoch-making.
Szilárd Borbély was one of the best and most original poets and novelists of his generation—and Ottilie Mulzet is a wonderful translator of his work.
[Borbély] is considered one of the most important figures in contemporary Hungarian literature, having had an immense impact on the transformation of Hungarian poetry in the last decade, strongly influencing the conceptualization of poetry’s social role and linguistic-thematic possibilities. . . . Borbély’s poetry, prose, and essays try to bring the readers closer to the lives of those who cannot speak of their trauma or suffering. They can be uneducated and poor villagers, survivors of the Holocaust, women grieving after a miscarriage, or victims of terrible aggression. Through Borbély’s texts we readers become increasingly less cruel-hearted.
—László Bedecs, Asymptote