The novel follows the lives
of three families in Budapest through WWII and its political aftermath into the
post-communist era. It is a tragic tale, in which the survivors are filled with
guilt and regret and the dead continue to wander the streets full of longing.
Irén reflects on the nature
The past is inescapable. It is not only facts that are irreversible;
our past reactions and feelings are too. One can neither relive them nor alter
We do not appreciate the
present. You always realize too late the
importance of drawing out the moment while you can, while it is still possible.
I was always in too much of a hurry, I just wanted the time to pass.
And when old age arrives, she
The most frightening thing about the loss of youth is
not what is taken away but what is granted in exchange. Not wisdom. Not
serenity. Not sound judgment or tranquility. Only the awareness of universal
The Gestapo kept Kurt
Schuschnigg in solitary confinement except for weekly visits by his wife, Vera.
He worried about his son, Kurt Jr., who was not allowed to attend school in
Vienna and had to be put into a boarding school in Munich.
Vera to Hermann Wopfner, 26
We have now removed the boy
from classes, and he studies privately with the director of his boarding school.
It is an expensive proposition, but it had to be done. He couldn’t cope with a
number of subjects and was at risk of failing in the fall. Under the present
arrangement, he has to try harder and learns a great deal more. We hope he will
pass. This business of his schooling is really a cross to bear!
Vera to Hermann Wopfner, 28
You are asking about Kurt Jr.
That is a difficult chapter. He could be an excellent student if he wanted to. He isn’t stupid after all, but unfortunately he does not want to study! He is
terribly absentminded and playful and has no idea of the seriousness of life.
Things are improved now because he is taught together with only one other
pupil, so that he can be put under greater pressure. Poor Kurt [Sr.] is very
concerned about him. I would like to get the boy into a military academy. Seven
new schools have been established on the initiative of the army, and he
urgently needs discipline. But it is questionable whether I will succeed. I
always come up against difficulties, but in my opinion it would be the best
solution for him.
Kurt Schuschnigg to his
brother Artur, 7 Mai 1941
Many thanks for taking my
Kurt [Jr.] to the opera! Please keep an eye on him if you can and it’s not too
much bother. I would like him to develop some interests, and not just in
airplanes and tanks! I’m sometimes concerned about the boy. Of course things
aren’t entirely his fault. In the final analysis he is a victim of the times.
Vera troubles herself a great deal about him, but she can’t work miracles. He
is basically a good soul, but easy-going and immature. I am very attached to
him! Well, you know yourself how much wife and children mean to a man!
(My trans. from Sofort Vernichten, ed. A. Binder and H. Schuschnigg)
#AMREADING THE LETTERS OF
VERA AND KURT #SCHUSCHNIGG.
After Kurt Schuschnigg
resigned as chancellor of Austria, he was arrested on 12 March 1938 and kept in
solitary confinement at Gestapo headquarters. He married his fiancée, Vera Countess Czernin,
by proxy in June 1938. She took over the care of his son Kurt Junior. The 12-year
old boy was forced to leave school and lived with his former nanny. Vera
arranged for private tutoring at her own cost. In 1939 she secured for Kurt a
place in a boarding school in Munich.
Vera to Hermann Wopfner, 9
[I am supporting the boy out
of my own funds.] So far it worked out
reasonably well because it was an interim solution with relatively cheap
assistant teachers. Now however the question of the boy’s education has been
settled with the authorities, which was not easy, as you can imagine, since I
had to find people who suited both me and them (and since I can’t send him to
school here)…We need two teachers, which is rather expensive, even if I economize
in every possible way. It can hardly be done under 200 Marks per month. Kurt
and I would be immensely grateful if you could contribute something to this
amount – something small, whatever you think fit. Any amount will help us.
Vera to Hermann Wopfner, 8 November
I have decided to send Kurtl to a school in Munich. I
have achieved that much last week…he attends the gymnasium in Schwabing in the
morning and afterwards goes to the Salesianum, a boarding school. For the time
being he will be there only during the day because a room is available only as
of 15 November…The boy is quite happy, and this solution provided great relief
to me. It was quite impossible to arrange anything here [in Vienna]. I did not
even get an answer to my petition.
Vera to Hermann Wopfner, 18
Today he is still a child. All I want is that he will
recognize later on that I never even for a second distinguished [between him
and my own children]. I am just as strict with my own when they do anything
stupid. In my opinion one can’t be strict enough nowadays. I have certainly
been brought up in an old-fashioned way, but I know that’s not the worst
education. Without moral and spiritual principles I would never have been able
to win through this time of great sorrow, this ordeal, and remain unshattered.
And I want to arm all my children against sorrow – happy times are easy to
(Translated from Sofort vernichten. Die vertraulichen Briefe
Kurt und Vera von Schuschniggs, 1938-1945, ed. Dieter A. Binder and
Two short novels Murakami wrote them in the 70s. His mode of
operation: When I got home late from
work, I sat at my kitchen table and wrote. The desire to write felt like something that had come
fluttering down from the sky, and I had caught it cleanly in my hands…It was
like a revelation. Or maybe “epiphany” is a better word.
result was a kind of diary/philosophy of life.
COOL.There was a time when everyone
wanted to be cool.I
decided to express only half of what I was really feeling. For the next several
years this was how I behaved. At which point I discovered that I had turned
into a person incapable of expressing more than half of what he felt.
appeared as though time had stopped, as if all of a sudden its flow
had been severed. He had no idea why things had changed. Nor did he know
how to search for the severed end…He was s powerless and lonely as a winter fly
stripped of its wings, or a river confronting the sea. An ill wind had arisen
somewhere, and it was blowing the warm, familiar air that had embraced him to
the other side of the planet.
CITY. I sniffed rain. A few autumn birds
cut across the sky. The drone of the I was everywhere, a mix of countless
sounds: subway trains, sizzling hamburgers, cars on elevated highways,
automatic door opening and closing.
MACHINE – THE MASTER.He would
insert one of the coins to start the machine, snap the plunger a few times, and
then shoot a ball out onto the playfield in a bored sort of way. With that
single ball he checked the magnets on all the bumpers, tested all the lanes,
and knocked down the targets one by one. The drop target, the kick-out hole,
the rotating target. Next, he set off all the bonus lights and then wrapped up
the job by dispatching the ball into the exit drain with a look of complete
disinterest. All in less time than it takes to smoke half a cigarette.