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Faludy, George.

Don Mills fOnt.), Totem Press, c1985. 468pp, paper, $9.95, ISBN 0-00-217461-8. Distributed by Collins. CIP


Faludy, George.

Edited and translated by Robin Skelton. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1985. 232pp. paper, $I2.95, ISBN 0-7710-3117-3.CIP

Reviewed by Bohdan Kinczyk

Volume 14 Number 3
1986 May

Born in Hungary in 1910, and a permanent resident of Canada since 1966, George Faludy has been called "Hungary's greatest living poet." His autobiography. My Happy Days in Hell, which was first published in Great Britain in 1962 and is now re-issued by Totem Press to coincide with the publication of Faludy"s Selected Poems: 1933-1980, deals with his seven years of exile from Hungary (1938-1945) and the nightmare years of his incarceration (1945-1953) in a Hungarian concentration camp.

Fleeing from Budapest in 1938 to avoid being drafted into the Hungarian Army. Faludy finds refuge first in France, then in North America, and finally in America, where he was soon elected secretary-generaI of the Free Hungary Movement. At the same time, he was given editorial control of the movement's weekly newspaper, Harc (Fight). When the war ended, the Free Hungary Movement and its organ, Harc, had lost their purpose. And Faludy could at last return to his native land. It proved to be a mistake. The communists were already consolidating their power, using informers, secret police, and staged trials to silence anyone who was a potential threat to the regime. Faludy is watched and harassed for months before he is finally jailed. Thus begins his descent into hell. Ironically, his days in hell are in some ways happier than his days of freedom in Budapest:

my jailers had saved me from a life in which I had to give up my writing, my friends, all human relationships, my habits, including that of thinking, all in order to make place for fear, insecurity, helplessness and humiliation. When they locked the cell door behind me I suddenly regained my freedom: the right and the unlimited opportunity to think.

My Happy Days in Hell is a curious blend of pathos, poetry, and propaganda. Faludy and his East European intellectual friends have an irritating habit of lecturing one another for hours on end, but when Faludy the poet is alone and takes centre stage, his poet's eye and his delightfully keen nose give us many wonderful moments of terrible beauty. Anyone who doubts the strength of the human spirit should take this tour of hell.

If we find the poet in the autobiography, we also find the propagandist in some of the Selected Poems. Poems like "Hymn to Stalin" and "Solitary Confinement" are dated and dull. They are not good poems. Describing how he leans against the cell wall and huddles into his coat to keep the bitter winter out, the speaker in "Solitary Confinement" reports that:

life becomes more tolerable
-if life is the appropriate label.

Unfortunately, the clumsy prosaic rhythms and fuzzy abstract words are not restricted to the political poems; the sonnets have their awkward moments too:

Selfishness between us two becomes unselfishness. But how can I ever alter into the one you choose to think I am?

It is tempting lo blame such lapses on the translator, but apparently all of these poems have been "passed for the press'' by Faludy himself. Perhaps Faludy was right when he said "it is almost impossible to translate Hungarian poetry into English."

Still, there are a few profitable veins to mine. In "Sonnet Eighty-Eight." for example, the speaker has just turned sixty-five, and he is worried that he gives his love too little. When she enters the room he merely runs to introduce her:

to the newborn creatures of my
giving every one to you, these does
from the leafy fringe of my mind's
and keeping for myself the many

There is little music in Selected Poems, but much imagination: few good poems, but many memorable lines. Faludy may well be Hungary's greatest living poet, but when his poems are translated into English his voice is weakened and his stature diminished.

Bohdan Kinczyk, Central Elgin C.I.. St. Thomas, Ont.
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