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The Fawn


In The Door, in Iza’s Ballad, and in Abigail, Magda Szabó describes the complex relationships between women of different ages and backgrounds with an astute and unsparing eye. Eszter, the narrator and protagonist of The Fawn, may well be Szabó’s most fascinating creation.

Eszter is an only child. She grows up in a provincial Hungarian town with her father, an eccentric aristocrat and steeply downwardly mobile flower breeder, and her mother, a harried music teacher failing to make ends meet, in the years before World War II. In postwar Communist Hungary, Eszter has moved to Budapest and become a star of the stage, but she has forgotten no slight and forgiven nobody, least of all her too kind and beautiful classmate Angela.

The Fawn unfolds as Eszter’s confession, filled with the rage of a lifetime and born, we come to sense, of irreversible regret. It is a tale of childhood, of the theater, of the collateral damage of the riven twentieth century, of hatred, and, in the end, a tragic tale of love.

The Fawn is an achievement of extreme narrative restraint, treading a fugitive path between the need to speak and the desire to withhold—an effect enthrallingly captured in Len Rix’s new translation.
—Charlie Lee, The New Yorker

Szabó has created a character of defiant complexity and perverse, utterly plausible self-destructiveness. . . . Szabó’s psychological acuity, amply on display in her later novels, is thoroughly present here too.
—Claire Messud, Harper’s Magazine

Len Rix, the translator of three other novels by Szabó (1917–2007), renders Eszter’s blunt, merciless narration in smoothly cold prose.
—Nick Holdstock, TLS

This is a story of how a monster is made and of how successive disorienting, alienating crises in twentieth-century Hungarian history—and most of all the distorting crisis of poverty, the crisis of class inequality and class resentment—has made its monsters.
—Meghan Racklin, Asymptote

It is hard to choose among Magda Szabó's novels which is the most powerful or most unforgettable, but The Fawn stands with The Door, not only because one cannot put it down but because it is a study of love found and betrayed and the personal tragedies that in Hungary were made so acute by World War II.
—Donald Rayfield

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