And all that time Laszlo had been tormented by Tibor Kalman’s villa – it was like the place was imagining him rather than the other way around – it sometimes appeared in place of what he was running from, and Laszlo had to stop himself from leaping into a burning apartment, a metro tunnel, or a garden under shelling, thinking: this is it, finally, I’ve made it.
Hello, I am Zin!
I did not think I would like this story. I started reading it in the waiting room of my dentist (I was very early), so it was not the best of circumstances for reading. I was discouraged by the time and setting (1944-1947 Hungary) and it is a war story. I am glad I started over later. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.
It is a very interesting story. Now, “interesting” is often used as a euphemism for “yuck” but not in this case! I liked this story very much, and the best description of how I liked it is “interesting”. It is not really what I would call a beautiful story. There are passages that knocked the wind out of me, but their power is not beautiful prose but meaning. It was a story that kept tumbling. I was interested. I was interested in the character and the story of course, or I would not be able to say I liked it! But I was interested in the world it described. I have read quite a bit about WWII but not much about Hungary or the Siege of Budapest (to be honest I had never heard of it) or how Hungary went from being a Nazi captive to a Soviet captive overnight (which I knew about but was pretty vague on the details and certainly had no grasp of the human situation). So I found the story an interesting way into learning a little about those events. And I found it very interesting how the villa in the title is a character in the story. And how the title is so very important.
The story follows Laszlo, a very young Hungarian soldier. It is quite complicated. I started to outline it, but there are many details and every one of them is important, so my outline got very long. Laszlo is dealing with a lot of guilt, and he hungers for safety which becomes personified by Timor Kalman’s villa, where he can get documents that will allow him to escape Eastern Europe entirely. He commits several betrayals to get himself into the villa. He longs for absolution but that is not going to happen. In the end the villa is restored, but it is not a physical restoration. In spite of Laszlo’s sins, I felt a lot of compassion for him.
I am glad this One Story piece made it into the collection; One Story has become one of my favorite publications! The author wrote this story as part of a novel of linked stories generated from his research into the Siege of Budapest. He did not complete the novel, but ended up with four stories. He visited a villa that became the inspiration for the one in the story. You can read his Q&A with One Story editor Pei-Ling Lue; I found it very interesting (that word again! But it is!). Most authors will decline to speculate on the future of their characters beyond the end of a story or novel, but he knows (and tells!) what happens to Laszlo because he wrote another story about him! And I thought his answer to “what is the best writing advice you’ve ever received” was funny, and maybe I should think about it a bit!