A typically brilliant, ironic and moving travelogue by one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers
In August 1936 a Hungarian writer in his mid-thirties arrives by train in Venice, on a journey overshadowed by the coming war and charged with intense personal nostalgia. Aware that he might never again visit this land whose sites and scenes had once exercised a strange and terrifying power over his imagination, he immerses himself in a stream of discoveries, reappraisals and inevitable self-revelations. From Venice, he traces the route taken by the Germanic invaders of old down to Ravenna, to stand, fulfilling a lifelong dream, before the sacred mosaics of San Vitale.
This journey into his private past brings Antal Szerb firmly, and at times painfully, up against an explosive present, producing some memorable observations on the social wonders and existential horrors of Mussolini’s new Roman Imperium.
Antal Szerb was born in Budapest in 1901. Best known in the West as a novelist and short story writer, he was also a prolific scholar whose interests ranged widely across the whole field of European literature. Debarred from a university post by reason of his Jewish ancestry, he taught in a commercial secondary school until increasing persecution led to his brutal death in a labour camp, in 1945. Yet the tone of his writing is almost always deceptively light, the fierce intelligence softened by a gentle tolerance, wry humour and understated irony. Pushkin Press’s publications of Szerb’s work include his novels Journey by Moonlight, Oliver VII and The Pendragon Legend, as well as the short story collection Love in a Bottle and the history The Queen’s Necklace.