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The Door

The Door

3.8 5
by Magda Szabó, Stefan Draughon (Translator)

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This 1987 Hungarian novel in the modernist tradition combines emotionality and literary quality in the story of two women, a writer and her housekeeper.

East European Monographs


This 1987 Hungarian novel in the modernist tradition combines emotionality and literary quality in the story of two women, a writer and her housekeeper.

East European Monographs

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Claire Messud
It's astonishing that this masterpiece should have been essentially unknown to English-language readers for so long…I've been haunted by this novel. Szabo's lines and images come to my mind unexpectedly, and with them powerful emotions. It has altered the way I understand my own life. A work of stringent honesty and delicate subtlety, The Door is a story in which, superficially, very little happens. Szabo's narrator, like the author a writer named Magda…follows the intricacies of her intimate filial relationship with her housekeeper, Emerence. In doing so, it exposes the rich inadequacies of human communication even as it evokes the agonies of Hungary's recent history…there is nothing simply ordinary about the friendship between these two women. Set on the stage of a single street in mid-20th-century Budapest, theirs is nothing less than the account of humanity's struggle to love fully and unconditionally, a struggle that is perhaps doomed.
Publishers Weekly
In this poignant but long-winded novel by the late Hungarian author Szabó, a writer recounts her decades-long relationship with—and eventual betrayal of—her enigmatic and emotionally volatile housekeeper. The story opens in postwar Hungary, narrated from old age by the protagonist, who remains unnamed for much of the novel. After having their careers “politically frozen,” the narrator and her husband (also a writer) begin to work again and seek out domestic help for their new home in Budapest. They hire Emerence Szeredás, a local peasant with an air of authority and “strength like a Valkyrie.” Though Emerence initially proves an antagonistic worker—attacking the narrator’s belief in God, for instance—she eventually develops a deep affection for, and reliance upon, her employers. Over the years, she reveals secrets about her childhood and her peripheral involvement in Hungary’s troubled political past, ultimately inviting the narrator into her apartment, which she notoriously—and suspiciously—protects. Szabó is a master tension builder, and Emerence’s demise (foretold in the novel’s opening pages) is heartbreakingly rendered. But an abundance of unnecessary detail weighs down what is otherwise a lucid and politically intriguing character study. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Winner of the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize and the Prix Femina Étranger

“Beautifully translated by Len Rix...New York Review Books Classics—acting, yet again, in its capacity as the Savior of Lost Greats—has now delivered this version to an American audience. If you’ve felt that you’re reasonably familiar with the literary landscape, ‘The Door’ will prompt you to reconsider. It’s astonishing that this masterpiece should have been essentially unknown to English-language readers for so long…suffice it to say that I’ve been haunted by this novel. Szabo’s lines and images come to my mind unexpectedly, and with them powerful emotions. It has altered the way I understand my own life. [It is] a work of stringent honesty and delicate subtlety.” —Claire Messud, The New York Times Book Review

"'The Door' is a deeply strange and equally affecting book, a dark domestic fairy tale about the relationship between a Hungarian writer, Magda, and her taciturn elderly housekeeper, Emerence.” —John Williams, The New York Times

"'The Door,' by Magda Szabo, is a Hungarian novel with the elemental force of a myth — the story of a middle-class writer and the servant who takes over her household and her life. Class dynamics, female friendship, the power of will — Szabo writes about them all with eerie fascination." —Adam Kirsch, The New York Times Book Review

"Szabó is a master tension builder, and Emerence's demise...is heartbreakingly rendered." —Publishers Weekly

“Subtle, intellectual, and if not exactly unflinching then certainly told with bone-scraping honesty, this is a masterpiece.”—Emily Temple, Flavorwire

"Szabo is a deft writer. She constructs the narrative around a deeply authentic friendship while leaving unresolved the main idea: How will you conduct yourself in your quest to be an authentic writer, and what are the costs to the people who care for you?” —Diane Mehta, The Rumpus

“No brief summary can do justice to the intelligence and moral complexity of this novel. I picked it up without expectation. I read it with gathering intensity, and a swelling admiration. I finished it, and straightaway started to read it again. It is unusual, original, and utterly compelling.” —The Scotsman

“A superbly controlled and involving work of art. . . . One of Szabó’s triumphs is to have written a profound political novel that is rooted in the domestic.” —Liam McIlvanney, London Review of Books

“Clever, moving, frightening, it deserves to be a bestseller.” —Tibor Fischer, The Telegraph

“Szabó’s style (the text is brilliantly translated), laced with gentle humor, is as mesmerizing as are her characters. Her dexterous, self-ironizing distance (the autobiographical elements are obvious), the detached gestures with which the narrator interrupts herself, the muted fury that erupts in overlong or half-sentences, and a certain moral seriousness and ethical anguish also impregnate this gem of a novel. Ultimately, the text is a tranquil memento, a piece of irrefutable poetry, a bizarre counterpart to our universal betrayal—out of love.” —World Literature Today
The Door is a valuable document of a vital relationship.” —The Guardian
The Door tells a great deal about the sufferings of 20th-century Hungary through the heart and mind of a single fearless woman, as Magda is taught by example to consider her own inadequacies. Magda Szabó’s great book was published in Hungary as long ago as 1987; Len Rix’s fluent translation is a belated and welcome gift to readers in English...profoundly moving.” —The Independent
The Door is a marvellous book dominated by female characters.” —The Times (London)
“This melting pot of a novel hangs from a solid tripod of Greek myth, Biblical scripture and Slavic fairy tale, handled with style and an easy familiarity. There is a great deal here to move anyone who has watched or felt the sufferings of age.” —Glasgow Herald 

“Intimate and satisfying….the tension between Magda and her housekeeper is fascinating, and sometimes sickening as well….the story celebrates love, the kind that is too perfectly made to exist on Earth.” —Claire Rudy Foster, Cleaver Magazine

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-06-22
A deeply affecting novel, first published in Hungary in 1987, from one of Europe's most prominent modern writers.Szabó's narrator, not coincidentally named Magda, recalls an emotionally fraught 20-year relationship with her housekeeper. As the book opens in postwar communist Hungary, a decadelong political freeze on her writing career has been lifted and Magda seeks out a domestic helper to care for her and her husband's new home in Budapest while she begins to write again. Through an old classmate's recommendation, she meets Emerence Szeredás, an inscrutable older woman built like a "mythological hero" whose years of experience working in the neighborhood have rendered her a revered and almost iconic figure in town. Right off the bat, Magda learns that Emerence won't just work for anybody: "This was the first time anyone had required references from us." And after hijacking the interview, Emerence waits a whole week before appearing again to accept the job. Though beloved by many, Emerence keeps her complicated history private and lives alone in a flat—hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world—that even her closest friends are forbidden to enter. From the start of their relationship, Magda is perplexed by the enigmatic woman who is so unlike her—a peasant, "anti-intellectual," and staunch atheist—but who moves and speaks with an inimitable elegance ("Emerence…was perfect in every respect; at times oppressively so") and shows a resolute indifference toward Magda for the first five years of her employment. As the years wear on, though, an intimacy manifests between the two that can only be described as landing somewhere between an endearing mother-daughter relationship and that of a contemptuous love affair. Their story is utterly compelling and often unnerving. Magda turns to Emerence for affirmation, and Emerence doles out her affection for Magda in peculiar, sometimes volatile, acts, eventually making the grand gesture of inviting Magda into her apartment. But things take a turn for the worse and terror ensues when Magda's career takes off and Emerence falls gravely ill. Szabó discerns the complex nature of human emotion with sensitivity and prowess in this hypnotizing work of art. A haunting exploration of age, class, love, and loss that demands to be read and read again.

Product Details

East European Monographs
Publication date:
East European Monographs , #40
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 8.56(h) x 0.95(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Magda Szabo is contemporary Hungary's foremost woman novelist.

East European Monographs

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The Door 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is intense. I must admit that I really thought that the narrator was sort of spoiled in that she could not - at least initially - have any appreciation for the main character. It does come together - two social classes, two experiences - at the end. Well worth the read.
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