OBITUARY : Geza Pskndi

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The Independent Online
The career of Geza Pskndi, the poet and playwright who pioneered the creation of the Hungarian theatre of the absurd, epitomises the fate of many East European writers following the Second World War.

Born in a working-class family in the north-western part of present-day Romania, Pskndi published his first poems under the shadow of Stalinism and was soon afterwards punished by the Romanian authorities for the assertion of his Hungarian identity. He was educated at Satu Mare and at Cluj, where between 1953 and 1957 he could still study at the Hungarian Bolyal University that was suppressed two years later.

In the autumn of 1956 Pskndi took part in a public meeting organised by local Hungarian intellectuals to commemorate those who died during the Hungarian uprising. For this act of courage he paid with his freedom: he was arrested and sentenced to six years' imprisonment for "anti-state incitement". He served his sentence in various jails in Transylvania and by doing forced labour in the Danube Delta, perhaps the most notorious locality of the Romanian Gulag.

Pskndi was released in 1963 and was shortly after allowed to publish again. Ten years after his debut with Piros madr ("Red Bird", 1956), Holdbumerng ("Moon-Boomerang", 1966) was published. This collection is considered by some critics to be Pskndi's best book of poetry: it is full of verbal energy and humour and playfully experiments with poetic form. It is not a book by someone who has just walked out of jail.

The experiences of the years of detention found expression in other genres such as short prose and dramatic sketches. Between 1966 and 1974 Pskndi brought out several books of prose and drama of which Az eb olykor emeli lbt ("Dogs Sometimes Lift Their Hind Legs", 1970) is the most interesting. It contains plays or playlets which earned its author the reputation of pioneering the Hungarian theatre of the absurd. The short plays Kulso Zojak ("Noises from Outside") and A Bosszll, a kapus, avagy: kerjuk a lbat letorolni ("The Avenger, the Doorman, or: please wipe your feet") lay bare the hidden mechanisms of power, with specific allusions to local bureaucracy.

Though he found permanent work in the Kriterion Publishing House in Bucharest, Pskndi decided to move to Hungary in 1974. At the time the megalomaniac features of Nicolae Ceausescu's regime had just begun to be apparent, but Pskndi had no time to wait for the eventual downfall of Romanian Communism. As there was no chance of his getting permission to leave Romania legally, he resorted to a complicated but effective stratagem - having divorced his wife he remarried a native of Hungary and his ex-wife also found herself a "pretend husband" with Hungarian citizenship. Once the Pskndis reached Hungary the two couples divorced and the writer could remarry his ex-wife. I was in Budapest in the summer of 1974 when this had just happened and it is hard to describe the feeling of elation with which the literary world greeted this daring but successful event.

Pskndi's reputation was very high at the time. He became a staff member of the literary review Kortrs and his plays were performed all over Hungary. Some of them, such as A Rejtekhely ("The Hiding Place", 1972) which takes its theme from the history of the French Revolution, show his talent for dialogue; while a historical play, Tornyot Vlasztok ("I Choose a Tower"), which deals with a conflict between central power and educational innovation in 17th-century Protestant Transylvania, has enjoyed great popularity. The tragicomedy Domitianus (1979) is a satirical portrayal of a Roman emperor whose main argument for clinging on to arbitrary power is that he is "a genuine Roman" and bears an uncanny resemblance to Ceausescu.

Pskndi's plays were several times collected (1974, 1975, 1985); he also published new stories and poems. His last important work, A Srrablk ("The Grave Robbers", 1989), is a combination of political essays dealing with the situation of the Hungarian ethnic minority in Romania and the fictionalised monologue of a working-class Hungarian who lives there.

Pskndi wrote poems and stories for children throughout his life; three of these books were published in Romania and four in Hungary. He also wrote two film-scripts. In 1977 he won the Attila Jzsef Prize and in 1993 Hungary's highest literary award, the Kossuth Prize.

George Gomori

Geza Pskndi, writer: born Szetmrthegy, Romania 18 May 1933; married Annamaria Sebok; died Budapest 19 May 1995.