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Winner of the 2012 Writers' Trust Fiction Prize
FINALIST FOR THE FRANK O'CONNOR INTERNATIONAL SHORT STORY AWARD
SHORTLISTED FOR THE GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD
NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY QUILL & QUIRE
“Alice Munro...Isaac Babel...Those comparisons may sound daunting, but Dobozy has mastered the technical conventions of his craft... This vivid rendering of Hungarian history as a nightmare from which no one quite wants to awake is Dobozy’s finest achievement.”
—Garth Risk Hallberg, The New York Times Book Review
"The sheer variety of Dobozy’s approaches to telling stories, and his commitment not only to provoke thought but to entertain, constitute a virtuoso performance. Siege 13 is without question one of my favorite story collections ever."
—Jeff VanderMeer, The Washington Post
"The siege of Budapest by the Red Army, which took place near the close of the Second World War and lasted more than a hundred days, informs each of the stories in this collection.... Each story confronts its characters with impossible choices, often forcing them to weigh physical security against moral preservation in a 'desire to find a way out when there is none.'"
—The New Yorker
"From the dark cityscapes of besieged Hungary to the émigré cafés of contemporary North America, Siege 13 spans continents and decades, and in doing so illustrates once again that old maxim: the short story can be both as broad and as deep as a novel. At times gently humorous, at times quietly wise, Dobozy’s thirteen stories dazzle with their psychological nuance and brilliant attention to detail. These stories are never less than breathtaking."
—Jury Citation, Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize
"Thoughtful, haunting and deeply human short stories."
—The Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Gripping, and powerfully written.... these stories come together to create a wonderful book: Bravo, Tamas Dobozy."
—Historical Novels Review (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
"Tomas Dobozy, master architect of this genre and recipient of the O. Henry Prize and Rogers’ Writers Trust Fiction Prize, has crafted thirteen unique, self-sustaining worlds in his new collection, Siege 13.
—Words Without Borders
"PEN/O. Henry Prize winner Dobozy’s energetic stories, a baker’s dozen, are full of Eastern Europeans (Sándor, Tíbor, Lujza, etc.) involved in events unusual to Western readers that are part of the characters’ everyday lives. A natural storyteller, Dobozy typically launches intriguingly titled tales with a declarative sentence that increases the interest: 'The Ghosts of Budapest and Toronto' begins 'Mária didn’t die in the siege of Budapest'; likewise, 'The Miracles of Saint Marx' starts: 'One of the weirder people to surface during the era of Hungarian communism...' When not in Europe, Dobozy’s characters are typically strangers in a strange land. Narrated by a Fulbright Scholar studying at NYU, 'The Atlas of B. Görbe' centers on an elderly and revered yet also overindulgent and corpulent Hungarian-born author (the titular Görbe) who maneuvers in Manhattan like a bull in a china shop. 'The Homemade Doomsday Machin'” charts a little boy’s obsession with the work of émigré nuclear scientist Otto Kovács, who visits him with the machine’s prototype after an exchange of letters. The centerpiece is the novella-length 'The Beautician,' an engrossing tale of love and betrayal among members of the Szécsényi Club, a Hungarian intellectual society in Toronto. Colorful and rich in detail and full of life."
"Siege 13, Tamas Dobozy's new collection of short stories, shows us once again that he is an excellent storyteller, one of the few who keep the art of writing good short fiction alive. His stories are usually about Hungarians living outside of Hungary, lost forever in the labyrinth built on the thin border between memories and reality, past and present, words and silence. Like Nabokov, Tamas Dobozy combines the best elements of European and American storytelling, creating a fictional world of his own."
—David Albahari, author of Gotz and Meyer
"A superb collection of short stories that revisits two of the deadliest months in Hungarian history. The book tells the stories of those who hid, those who fought, those who betrayed, those who escaped and those who died, and how the effects of the siege still linger, three-quarters of a century later.... Siege 13 is one of the best books of the year."
—Mark Medley, National Post (Canada)
Praise for Last Notes: And Other Stories
"Tamas Dobozy—like David Bezmozgis ("Natasha"), Dave Eggers ("A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius") and even Jeffrey Eugenides (at least in "The Virgin Suicides")—has mastered the art of deadpan, which is hard to pull off in print....We laugh at these wayward, distracted characters, ha-ha-ha! We're laughing at ourselves."
— Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
"These strange and intense stories [are] packed with fast-paced weirdness...treats to be savored. Dobozy, a Canadian of Hungarian descent, likes to upend old saws and twist the routine, and he does this most powerfully in the stories drawn from his European ancestry.”
— Alison McCulloch, New York Times Book Review
“The 10 first-person stories of Dobozy’s debut, remarkable for their psychological and emotional complexity, yearn to make sense of eccentric and opaque behavior, sometimes by engaging in it. The first story, ‘Into the Ring,’ centers on a married couple who box each other to release the mutual frustration of their inability to conceive. In the moving and funny ‘Philip's Killer Hat,’ the narrator tries to dissuade his off-kilter brother from sending letters to the Thelonious Monk estate that explain the musician’s tight-fitting hats ‘contributed to the madness that overtook’ him. Dobozy draws on his Hungarian heritage in several stories. In ‘Four Uncles,’ the narrator recounts his harrowing 1958 escape from Hungary and his later reconnection with his uncles through the Canadian-Hungarian exile community. In ‘The Inert Landscapes of György Ferenc,’ the son of an exiled Hungarian painter recounts his father’s dislike of his adoptive Canada, an ‘art-resistant’ country ‘that would not be reproduced.’ Dobozy's prose is an artistic and intellectual boon.”
“Quite good, with a sense of humor that Hemon lacks.”
—New York Post
“...Profound. In these pieces, Dobozy doesn’t shy away from engaging The Big Idea in the service of his story. He dares to be intellectual, and even his more traditional stories have an authorial voice that is learned and observing...The stories that comprise Last Notes have a staying power, a bleak charm that remains long after you put down the book.”
—Chris Winters, Bookslut
Praise for When X Equals Marylou
“A brilliant collection. His sentences move like snakes—fluid, jabbing, biting.”
—Michael Turner, author of Hard Core Logo
“Rich and thoughtful without being too sentimental, these stories are sharp and observant.”
—The Portland Mercury
“Dobozy’s stories sparkle like shards of glass.”
—The Globe & Mail
“Gritty, sexy, and all too real.”
“The literary equivalent of broken glass in a spoonful of honey. They go down smoothly, with a bit of prickling, then tear the reader apart when they least expect it. Dobozy is an expansive talent.”
—Quill & Quire
“It’s not always a pleasant world that Dobozy creates, but his writing is too powerful (and too real) to stop reading.”
“Reading one of Dobozy’s compellingly odd tales is like floating through a dream world. His characters’ Freudian longings are out in the open, and his logic and language are those of a mildly upsetting nightmare.”
“Dobozy looks at the ills of modernity with an acute eye. He’s a psychologically-attentive writer...a major literary talent in the making.”
“The writing in these stories is often slightly surreal, a quality that comes from Dobozy’s ability to blend beauty with harshness....Sharp and edgy but entrancing.”
—Jay Ruzesky, The Malahat Review
"Like Nabokov, Tamas Dobozy combines the best elements of European and American storytelling, creating a fictional world of his own." — David Albahari, author of Gotz and Meyer
The Atlas of B. Görbe
He was the sort of man you've seen: big and fat in an overcoat beaded with rain, cigar poking from between his jowls, staring at some vision beyond the neon and noise and commuter frenzy of Times Square.
That's how Benedek Görbe looked the last time I saw him. This was May, 2007, shortly before I left Manhattan, where I'd been living with my family for six months on a Fulbright fellowship at NYU. Görbe was an ex-boyfriend of an aunt in Budapest, though he hadn't lived in or visited Hungary for over forty years. He wrote in Hungarian every day though, along with drawing illustrations, for a series of kids' books published under the name B. Görbe by a small but quality imprint out of Brooklyn who'd hired a translator and published them in enormous folio-sized hardcovers under the title The Atlas of Dreams. Benjamin and Henry, my two boys, loved the books, with their pictures reminiscent of fin de siècle posters, stories of children climbing ladders into dreams—endless garden cities, drifting minarets, kings shrouded in hyacinths. That was Görbe's style, not that you'd have known it from the way he looked—with his stubble, pants the size of garbage bags, half-smouldering cigars, his obnoxious way of disagreeing with any opinion that wasn't his own, and sometimes, after a moment's reflection, even with that.
I was drawn to Görbe out of disappointment. The position at NYU had promised "a stimulating artistic environment," though what it actually gave me was an office in the back of a building where a bunch of important writers were squirrelled away writing, when they were there at all. In the end I wasn't surprised; that's what writers did—they worked. But this meant that when I wasn't writing I was wandering the streets, sometimes alone, sometimes with my wife, Marcy, in a dreamscape very different from the one described by Görbe. Rather than climbing up a ladder, I felt as if I'd climbed down one, into spaces of concrete and brick, asphalt and iron, and because it was winter it was always snowing, then rain, always torrential. I don't mean to imply that New York was dreary, only that it seemed emptied, an abandoned city, which is odd since there were people everywhere—to the point where I sometimes couldn't move along the sidewalk—all of them rushing by me as if they knew something I didn't, as if every street and avenue offered a series of doors only they could open. Because of this, because so much seemed inaccessible, New York made me feel as if I was a kid again, left alone at home for the first time, or in the house of a stranger, on a grey Sunday when there's nothing to do but search through the closets and cabinets of rooms you're not supposed to go into, never coming upon anything of interest but always hoping the next jewellry box or armoire or nightstand will redeem the lost afternoon. New York—my New York that winter—was a place of secrets.
Görbe was the biggest of them all. I called him on advice from my aunt Bea, who gave me his phone number after I complained about how few contacts I was making. She'd dated him, unbelievably enough, back in university in Budapest during the early 1960s. Görbe was an art student then, though he was also taking courses in literature and history and whatever else fired his imagination. He was "quiet and dreamy," according to my aunt, but also "very handsome." She compared him to Montgomery Clift. In the end, they only went out for ten months, after which Görbe dumped her for the supposed love of his life, a woman called Zella, who was majoring in psychology and who kept, according to rumour, the dream diary that would inspire Görbe's writing. Within a year of meeting Zella, Görbe left university without a degree, disappearing from my aunt's life for five years before resurfacing when his first book was published. My aunt went to the launch, wandering past posters of his illustrations, amazed to see how much Görbe had changed. Gone was the easy smile, that faraway look he sometimes had. There was something frantic about him that day, my aunt said, but he was as handsome as ever, and though he never revealed what the trouble was he seemed happy to have someone from the past to talk to. Görbe was especially bad-tempered when people who hadn't bought a book came up to him. "I was surprised to see him like that," she said. "When I knew him in university he was so different. We were hardly adults then, but we were on the edge of it—university degrees, jobs, marriages, children—but whenever I was with him it always felt to me as if we were back in the garden in Mátyásföld, playing hide-and-seek, climbing the downspout to the roof, searching for treasures in the attic." My aunt paused on the other end of the line. "Well, he's become an important man, and maybe he could help you. It doesn't sound like you're having much luck there." She paused again, and I could hear her shifting the phone against her face. "The number I have for him is quite old. He used to call me once in a while when he first left Hungary. I always got the feeling he really missed it here, that he didn't want to go, and he always asked me to describe what the city was like, the changes that had happened. I think it was because of Zella that he went." I could hear her rummaging on the other end of the line. "He hasn't called me in years."
When I finally telephoned Görbe he hesitated on the line, pretending not to remember my aunt, then grew curious when I rejected his suggestion that instead of bothering him I try to meet writers at the Hungarian Cultural Center. "I'm boycotting the place," I said, explaining how I'd gone three weeks prior to see György Konrád and afterwards spoke with the centre's director, László somebody or other, about my writing, and he'd faked interest, even enthusiasm, in that way they do so well in New York. This László person had advised me to put together an email with excerpts from my books and reviews, and to send it to him, and he'd get back to me. Hunting down the quotes and composing the email took the better part of a day, but László never responded—not to the email, not to the follow-up, nothing. "With all the time and bother it took, I could have taken my kids to the park," I said, "or gone to the Met with Marcy—a hundred different things."
Görbe laughed. It was like listening to a shout at the end of a long drainpipe. "Defaulting to the wife and kids, huh?" he said. "Listen, I hate the centre too. The programming ... well, it's like being inside a mind the size of a walnut. And the women they have working the bar—it would kill them to smile. I never go there anymore."
"Uh ..." I said.
"You're petty and embittered, kid," he shouted into the phone. "Running on despair. Narcissistic. Vindictive. I love it! Listen, you like Jew food?"
"Sure," I said.
"Your wife and kids, they're coming too, right?" He chuckled. "Before I help a writer I need to see what his home life is like."
It was a strange request, but it didn't take me long during that dinner at Carnegie's to see that he loved kids, my kids, and had a way of hitting all the right spots with Marcy's sense of humour—she was always amused by men who magnified their idiosyncrasies to comic levels—and before I knew it, before I'd even decided if I wanted to be friends with Görbe, she'd invited him to our place for dinner the next weekend. After that, with how much the kids loved him, and his attention to Marcy, we began seeing him regularly.
All of Görbe's books feature the same th
Excerpted from SIEGE 13 by Tamas Dobozy. Copyright © 2013 by Tamas Dobozy. Excerpted by permission of Milkweed Editions.
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The Atlas of B. Görbe.................... 1
The Animals of the Budapest Zoo, 1944–1945.................... 25
Sailor's Mouth.................... 43
The Restoration of the Villa Where Tíbor Kálmán Once Lived........ 65
The Beautician.................... 85
Days of Orphans and Strangers.................... 139
Rosewood Queens.................... 157
The Encirclement.................... 187
The Society of Friends.................... 209
The Miracles of Saint Marx.................... 237
The Selected Mug Shots of Famous Hungarian Assassins.................... 257
The Ghosts of Budapest and Toronto.................... 291
The Homemade Doomsday Machine.................... 315