For our September selection I present a truly profound and emotionally devastating book: Magda Szabo’s The Door. Originally published in Hungary in 1987, the book was freshly translated and published in the UK in 2005. Ten years later, it made its way to the US via nyrb, prestigious publisher of unjustly-obscure modern classics, paired with an insightful introduction by one of my favorite writers, Ali Smith.
The novel is narrated by Magda, a writer whose work has only just begun to be published again after a postrevolutionary ideological exile-in-situ. Just as her career finally begins to bear fruit, she and her husband engage an eccentric old woman as their housekeeper. The housekeeper, Emerence, is full of mystery and exquisitely independent. Their long relationship leads to a devastating discovery.
Much like Leila Slimani’s shattering The Perfect Nanny, The Door tells us exactly what we’re in for right at the beginning. But that doesn’t matter. We already know we’re going to die, if we just take a moment and think about it. The only thing we don’t know is when. Or how. Or why.
Sometimes it feels like we have begun to forget the 20th century: the wars. The competing hegemonies that grappled for cultural and ideological dominance, defining the latter half of the century (up until November, 1989, when the balance seemed to tip).
When you forget the past, you forget the lessons you learned. War, whether hot or cold, changes you. It forces you to do things you never thought you could do. Or would do.
As we fight this silent, slow, nearly bloodless battle for what we know is right in our country today, let’s not ignore the lessons written out for us by those who have already lived through similar wars. Who have already been forced into some degree of complicity.
I loved this book, and I hope you will, too. Please join me on September 29th at 1:00pm at the Astoria Bookshop to talk about it. (If a weeknight would be better for you, send me a message at email@example.com. If we have enough interest, we can set up an additional meeting.)
The Door is available at the Astoria Bookshop, at a 10% discount through September 29th.