Obituary: Ivan Mandy
Friday 17 November 1995
Ivan Mandy was one of the most widely read Hungarian writers of the post- 1945 period. His popularity stemmed partly from his subject-matter, which was invariably the life of the inhabitants of the poorer districts in Budapest.
Mandy's stories evoke the atmosphere of a partly submerged world, that of old cafes, dilapidated cinemas, unkempt football stadiums. These are the backdrops to the actions of his marginal characters, sometimes with evocative names or nicknames, who lead haphazard, disorganised, or abandoned, lonely lives. Some of these stories barely have a plot, but Mandy is a master of evocative prose: with only a few words he is able to give the reader a strong "impression" of his characters.
Mandy was born in Budapest in 1918. After the divorce of his parents he stayed with his father, a journalist of Bohemian inclinations, and much of his writing is based on the experiences of these early years. He attended various schools in Budapest but did not complete his secondary education. He made his debut during the Second World War with the novel Csoszhaz ("The Park-Keeper's Hut", 1943), but it was only some years later with Francia kulcs ("Adjustable Spanner") and A huszonegyedik utca ("The Twenty-First Street"), both published in 1948, that he was accepted as a remarkable new voice in Hungarian literature.
In the same year he won the Baumgarten Award. As he was co-editor of the independent and apolitical literary review Ujhold ("New Moon") until its suppression in 1948, in the first years of Communist rule he had difficulty in getting his work published. His situation began to improve in the mid- Fifties when, after years of marginalised existence, he once again got contracts; first he could publish fiction only for young readers, but his novel Fabulya felesegei ("Fabulya's Wives", 1959) showed his real potential. This was a satirical piece on the life of Bohemian and, mainly for political reasons, unemployed intellectuals in the 1950s.
Throughout the 1960s Mandy's popularity grew with collections such as A palya szelen ("By the Touchline", 1963) and Az ordog konyhaja ("The Devil's Kitchen", 1965), which show a certain shift from impressionism towards a kind of nostalgic Surrealism. It was in these years that one could already detect a special "milieu", a hallmark of Mandy's prose. In this "milieu" Mandy evoked scenes which reflected the loneliness and frustration of modern city-dwellers who lead atomised lives not connected with nature or protected by a tight community.
In his collection Mi van Verval? ("And What's Happening to Vera?", 1970), Mandy looks at the way of life of the young, the somehat frustrated "beat" generation of Hungary. In the 1970s he wrote and published much; almost every year a new book of his reached the bookshops.
Mandy wrote a number of film scenarios, as well as plays for the radio, and won many literary awards. Some of his stories were translated into English and appeared in the anthologies Ocean at the Window (1980) and Hungarian Short Stories (1983). In 1992 he was made an Honorary Citizen of Budapest.
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