Andras Suto

Writer banned under Ceausescu
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The Independent Online

András Süto, writer and playwright: born Pusztakamarás, Romania 17 June 1927; married (one son, one daughter); died Budapest 30 September 2006.

András Süto was already known to most Hungarians in Romania in 1970 when his new book, Anyám könnyu álmot igér ("Mother Promises a Light Dream"), became an instant success. The book dealt with the recent past of the author's birthplace, the Transylvanian village of Pusztakamarás, discussing the anomalies of the collectivisation of the countryside in the Romania of the 1950s.

This village was inhabited mostly by poor peasants, Hungarians as well as Romanians, some of whom were declared nevertheless "kulaks", class enemies, by the regime. Süto's book, part sociography, part subjective reminiscence, hit on a raw nerve: much human suffering could have been avoided had the Communist rulers applied less rigid, doctrinaire policies.

Süto was born in 1927 in Pusztakamarás (in Romanian, Camarasu), into a Hungarian peasant family. After the Second World War he studied for a while at the Hungarian-language Theatre Academy of Cluj, but was more interested in journalism. He left the academy for an editorial post with the weekly Falvak Népe ("Village Folk"). Dissatisfied with his job, he managed in 1954 to return to Marosvásárhely (Tirgu-Mures) in Transylvania, where he became editor of the new literary magazine Igaz Szó ("True Word"), a post he held until 1957. From 1957 to 1989 he edited a local illustrated magazine (Uj Élet), while writing both fiction and numerous plays.

Süto began his writing career with short stories, of which the collection Félrejáró Salamon ("By-Stepping Salomon", 1955) had some critical acclaim. The comedy Pompás Gedeon ("Gedeon the Pompous", 1967) showed Süto's penchant for satire, a difficult genre in the circumstances of one-party rule.

At the same time Süto was a trusted member of the Communist Party of Romania, though he found it increasingly hard to reconcile his political beliefs with the actual situation in the countryside. Still, from 1965 he became a member of parliament in Bucharest and a substitute member of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party, holding the latter post until 1977.

While Anyám könnyu álmot igér brought him fame not only in Romania, with its substantial Hungarian ethnic minority, but also in Hungary, it revealed him as a potential opponent of arbitrary centralisation and monopolisation of power. When the Ceausescu regime began to move in this direction in the early 1970s, Süto disguised his discontent as historical drama.

His play Egy lócsiszár virágvasárnapja (The Palm Sunday of a Horse Dealer, 1973) shows how revolution can turn into its opposite and devour its protagonists. Csillag a máglyán (Star at the Stake, 1974), a powerful and eventually tragic confrontation between John Calvin and the Socinian Michael Servet, reveals the clash between two Protestant reformers, one of whom is already enmeshed in the realities of power. Káin és Abel (Cain and Abel, 1977) focuses on two models of behaviour of which only one is guaranteed survival.

Travelling to Iran and seeing the ruins of Persepolis inspired both the essay "Perzsák" ("Persians") and its stage version Szuzai menyegzo ("Wedding at Susa", 1981), which was based on Alexander the Great's notorious order to 10,000 of his Greek and Macdeonian soldiers to marry Persian maidens. This play already showed Süto's resistance to the enforcement of "homogenisation".

Although between 1974 and 1981 he was Vice-President of the Romanian Writers Association, by the early 1980s András Süto began to lose the relative freedom of having his work published in his native country. The fact that he still considered himself a Marxist socialist did not help. The essay collection Engedjétek hozzám jönni a szavakat ("Let the Words Come to Me", 1977) showed his growing concern with the restriction against the use of Hungarian in Romania and the systematic infringement of the "internationalist" principles of Communist doctrine, so it was no surprise when his next two plays, Advent a Hargitán ("Advent in the Hargita Mountain", 1985) and Alomkommandó ("Dream Commando", 1987) could be performed only in Hungary.

By the time of the Romanian revolution of 1989 Süto was a widely known public figure, representing the large Hungarian community in Romania. In March 1990 at the time of the riots in Tirgu-Mures he was beaten so badly by a Romanian chauvinist mob that he lost the sight in one eye. He wrote up this experience in the part-diary reminiscences of Szemet szóért ("Eye for a Word", 1993).

Süto travelled much in Western Europe and in Iran and visited the United States in the 1970s. Several of his plays were translated into English, two of them (Star at the Stake, Cain and Abel) being staged by the Threshold Theater Company of New York. In 1999 DramaContemporary: Hungary included five plays by different authors, one of which was Süto's The Palm Sunday of a Horse Dealer.

George Gömöri

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