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A review of Tranquility from Alison McCulloch in The New York Times


Two things filled Immanuel Kant with awe — the starry sky above and the moral law within. But for Andor Weer, a writer and the narrator of this grueling but potent novel set in Hungary during and after Communist rule, the moral law is pointedly absent. “Naturally, I am afraid,” Weer observes at the end of the book. “If I were sitting somewhere outdoors, say, in the yard of a lake-shore house, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, in the Carpathians, even then I could write nothing but that the only thing that fills me with wonder is the starry sky above me. And that is indeed very little.” Certainly nothing close to Kant’s stern moral code is in evidence here, starting with Weer’s mother, Rebeka, an actress who betrayed her own daughter in an effort to keep her Socialist party favors, only to have the party betray her right back. Her career on the stage over, Rebeka locks herself away for 15 years in an “82-square-meter crypt” of an apartment furnished with theater props (“even the toilet seat came from a flopped play”), with her son as sole companion, caretaker and emotional punching bag. (“Wherehave­youbeenson?” and “Whereareyougoingson?” she continually asks him.) As Bartis, translated here by Imre Goldstein, scrapes away at this unholy bond of love and hate (most of it seems to be hate), unexpected secrets are exposed — like what happened to Andor’s father and sister, and the story behind his girlfriend’s breakdowns.

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