A Year in Reading: Jane Smiley

December 8, 2014 | 3 books mentioned 2 min read

covercovercoverMy best reading experience of the year is Miklos Banffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy — They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting, and They Were Divided. Banffy was a politician and writer born in 1873, who lived through the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the First and Second World Wars, and the invasion of Transylvania by the Soviets after the war. The trilogy was written in the 1930s, and explores, in part, the failure of politics to solve both the class and the regional disputes in Hungary and Romania. The two protagonists are Balint Abady and Laszlo Gyeroffy. Balint is a young, liberal aristocrat who falls in love with a married woman, and Laszlo is an ambitious and talented violinist and composer who is waylaid by various addictions.

Why I love it: 1. Banffy’s style is open and meticulous: he takes up one issue after another (politics, passion, madness, addiction, high society, the beauty, variety, and mysteriousness of the landscape, horses and hunting, human foibles and idiosyncrasies), explores each one, and moves on, returning over and to places and themes already visited and exploring them further. 2. Banffy’s characters are vivid and strange, but entirely believable, people of their place and time, but also recognizable to us. 3. His insights into the failures of politics, both through corruption and through incompetence, seem absolutely relevant to modern America. The Transylvanian Trilogy is smart, beautiful, and insightful, hangs together brilliantly, and deserves to be rediscovered. It was recommended to me by playwright John Guare, and he was right!

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is the author of many novels, including A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, as well as five works of nonfiction and a series of books for young adults. In 2001, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2006, she received the PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature. Her most recent novel, Some Luck, is the first installment in a trilogy, the second part of which, Early Warning, is due out in the spring.

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