The Portuguese Princess, by Tibor Dery

I read another book once by Tibor Dery, but since I can find no reference to it on this blog, it must have been a while ago. I can’t remember anything about it either – not even the name. (Consulting Wikipedia, I think it may have been Niki: The Story of a Dog, but about even this I’m unsure. – I remember reading a book from communist times about a dog called Ruslan – but, according to Wikipedia, this was written by someone called Georgi Vladimov, whom I can’t say I’ve ever heard of).

A few books by Tibor Dery exist in English, mostly editions from the 50s and 60s – and one book translated more recently by George Szirtes. The edition I have of this was published by Calder Books in 1966, and has easily the worst cover of any book I possess.

The Portuguese Princess is an example of how one’s reading sometimes seredipitously mirrors events going in the world around you. It’s a collection of short stories, the majority of which are taking place in Budapest as it is being shelled by Russian artillery at the end of WWII. The residents are hiding in the basement of their apartment block, where they continue acting out their lives and social relations from pre-war days (e.g. the richer people take over the best spaces, and are generally in charge). If it’s not the Russian shellings that they must be wary of, it’s the SS – and as the war draws to a conclusion, people worry for their safety, whether they supported the Germans or not.

I enjoyed the writing, though I find it hard to recollect now why. It was published by Calder Books, but wasn’t particularly experimental; but then not entirely straight-forwardly written either.

My edition also has the worst cover of any book I possess. I can’t think why you’d have such a bad cover, and not just instead leave it blank. Even the part which looks like a stain appears to be included in the design.