Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I’m just reading Imre Oravecz’s new novel Californian quail, written with a documentarist effort.
The author writes about the history of the poor peasants of Heves county, particularly around the village of Szajla, traveling with the great migratory wave around 1900 to America, where they became factory workers. He pays careful attention to the slightest details. These are very poor families indeed, who, like many others from Eastern Europe, came to America with the definite purpose to collect as much money as possible with hard work of years, and then to return home and start a new existence with the capital collected. However, they excluded from the calculation what they could not include: the development of history and the personality-forming effect of time.

The novel’s strength is precisely the self-confident changing of focuses, as he includes the history of the family into that of social groups and processes, treating together questions of sociology, sociography, mentality, lifestyle, industry and history of technology, very closely following the process of acculturation, now accelerating, now stalling, full of hopes and of disappointments, requiring continuous re-design, so difficult and time-consuming for the participants.
As the text is very complex, it is perhaps not fair to highlight precisely the following moment, but the readers who live in Budapest, in the narrow area, will certainly know what conveys in it the feeling of recognition, that certain behaviors live on extremely massively, connecting generations.

They did not go anywhere, no movie, no theater, they had no interest in culture. They did not keep up with the fashion. Once they had brought the more or less fancy clothes they brought with themselves, they only purchased one dress apart from the work clothes, and they wore it until it was abraded off them. They spared frantically, they only spent on the most necessary things. They spared everything from themselves, like the sickly misers. Except for the drink. They only slowly familiarized with the beer and whiskey. First they always required wine and fruit brandy. But there was no fruit brandy, and the wine was disproportionately expensive. But then they got addicted to the new drinks, and poured them into themselves, boozed them after the work, in the burd, but mainly in the szalón, the inn. There they usually got drunken and went into a fight with other nations, Italians and French, but mainly with each other. Or in the best case they quarreled, spatted up, disputed, wrangled. And this is how they went home after the closing hour, either individually or clinging together. And in top of all that, they also urinated a lot. Not before leaving, in the toilet of the inn, but on the way, in the street, publicly, shamelessly, as they were accustomed in Hungary. In the middle of the road, on the pavement, along the fences and walls, at the base of trees, wherever they felt the need, no matter whether there came someone, a woman or a man, in front of everybody. And in vain were they arrested and punished each time for public exposure, they considered this a nature’s law. The Americans were also quite horrified on the other freaks, but it was this barbarian open-air urination that they could digest the least.

They probably much resembled the Irish, also looked down in the period as uneducated and trouble-makers. For a larger context of this detail of the novel on the cultural difference, check here (in the original Hungarian).

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