David Tarbay On:
The Book Fair: The Assassin’s Grandson by George Spiro
György Spiró, one of Hungary’s leading authors, is well-acquainted with the Slavic languages and cultures and the political reality and literary history of Central-East Europe, with all its complexities.
In this short story, which depicts a symposium taking place at an international book fair in Germany to which he is invited along with a few Serbo-Croatian colleagues, Spiró touches on some contemporary “painful spots” of the region that is so dear to him: the sense of neglect and exploitation in Europe’s outskirts, nationalism, the unbearable lightness of historical distortion and the hypocrisy of the elite (in its own eyes). The story’s frame of mind expresses what everyone today knows: the euphoria that came after the fall of the Berlin Wall was quickly replaced by bitter disappointment at the inability of most ex-Central European countries to reach the Western standard of living and build a stable and productive socioeconomic system. “Central Europe, if indeed it ever existed, has ceased to exist. Today you can only talk about Eastern Europe […] which has become the European periphery of post-Capitalism, with all the charm and sadness that involves,” he said in an interview he gave in the summer of 2014 to a Hungarian literary blog. “The good news,” he added, “is that there are stupid people in the West too, like any other place.” The problems exist there too, explains Spiró, they’re only concealed in a more civilized/cultured manner. “The Book Fair: The Assassin’s Grandson” also exposes that tension.
Spiró’s tone is, as always, ironic and sharp. He raises a mirror and forces us to look at it. Under the lightness and the humor hides a very direct criticism and a comparison between what used to be and what is today (here, the symposium is taking place to mark 100 years since WWI broke out). History repeats itself, says the cliché, but in Spiró’s writing it is always hiding beneath the surface of things, suddenly bursting out through characters that reflect deliberations and absurd situations which a whole generation has had to deal with.
“The Book Fair: The Assassin’s Grandson” continues the line of autobiographical stories that were brought to the Israeli reader in the collection “I Dreamed for You” (Am Oved, 2013). “I Dreamed for You” is also the name of the first collection published by Spiró. Since then, he has written and published many short stories that add to his work in prose and drama. “The Book Fair: The Assassin’s Grandson” is going to appear at the end of 2015 in the anthology “Color Pencils of Freedom” published by Magvetö-KPMG publishing house, Budapest.