The Door by Magda Szabo, one of Hungary’s most important 20th-century writers. This novel has quite the history: The Door, Szabo’s best-known novel, was originally published in Hungary in 1987, translated from the Hungarian into English in 1995 and again in 2005 for British publication. The British translation won the 2006 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize and was short-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Lastly, the work won the Prix Femina Étranger in 2003 when published in French. It was listed on the New York Times Best Books of 2015 list. The story takes place in modern postwar Hungary and The Door is a classic not to be missed.
It is the Pest side of Budapest that Emerence lives on, the hilly region with less sophistication. She’s far from young but works the jobs of 10 people – washing laundry, cleaning houses and sweeping snow from sidewalks. If she works for you she chooses you – I don’t wash just anyone’s dirty laundry – adopts you and brings discarded junk to you. She then waits while you find the perfect spot for it in your home. She’s primitive and harsh, judging quickly with her words wounding deeply. Although she seems full of God’s wrath (she’s a non-believer), she delights in feeding the sick. No one except the dog, Viola, has gotten past her front door. Rumors are rampant about what’s behind the door, maybe stolen pieces of her previous employer, Mrs. Grossman.
The Door is told in the rich and calm voice of Magda, reflecting on her younger years as a writer. For 10 years, her career has been politically frozen but is now picking up again. In fact, she is being lauded for her writing at long last. Her husband is supportive and uncomfortable with Emerence’s existence in their life. Magda’s personality is like a pair of Ferragamo flats. She never misses a sacrament which causes a lot of head butting between her and her housekeeper. …her goodness was innate, mine was the result of upbringing.
The relationship between Emerence and Magda is irrational and unpredictable although they retain a strong sense of friendship. But friendship has its costs and the two of them see friendship differently.
Parts of the book are a combined Greek myth and Gone With The Wind. The story circles around theology, tragedy and betrayal and at the end of the story, these questions remain: Is Emerence the embodiment of monstrosity? The embodiment of Old Hungary? Of dignity?
The characters are unforgettable and in the Cool Mona rating system, I easily give The Door 5 margaritas.