Paul Varnai was born in 1935, in Kiskunhalas, Hungary. Attended high school in his native town. Completed three years at the Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, studying Russian and Hungarian languages and literatures. Left Hungary following the 1956 revolution. In Canada he taught Russian at the University of Western Ontario, between 1959 and 1961. In the years 1961-1964 he completed residence requirement for a PhD at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. He received his doctorate in 1971. Taught Hungarian and Russian Languages as well as Russian and East European Literatures at Carleton University, Ottawa, from 1964 till 1995. Retired as Associate Professor in 1995. He has published extensively on Russian, Hungarian, Canadian and Jewish Hungarian literatures and societies in Canada, the US and Hungary. Has produced a number of literary translations and edited collections of studies and short stories. His selection of English translations of Hungarian short stories was published in Toronto by Exile editions in 1983. Since his retirement Paul Varnai mostly writes for Hungarian Jewish publications concentrating on literary reviews, interviews with well-known Hungarian personalities, and personal writings.
“Who do I write for?”
Paul Varnai’s interview with Gabor T Szanto
Photo by Csilla Tóth
We have recently received this interview from our Hungarian correspondent, Paul Varnai who has been interviewing a number of well-known Hungarian figures from public life; mostly writers but also some politicians and theatre or film personalities. We thought it might be interesting to see how Hungarian writers of Jewish background see their work and their public. Do they consider themselves to be writing outside the mainstream or as part of it? In Canada we are used to a richly diverse literary field, one that forms a central part of the Canadian literary canon now and is a reflection of the diversity of our society (including Aboriginal, French and English and a range of other immigrant voices). In Hungary, this is not the case: numerically the largest “minority” is the Roma who live a difficult, marginalized existence and though in recent years progress has been made in finding ways to be more inclusive, there have been as many difficulties and challenges in managing to find equality and reduce discrimination. Hungarian Jews are perhaps the next biggest minority – though many if not most Jews do not consider themselves to be a minority (and in fact, refused to be considered one of the Officially recognized “ethnic minorities” so designated by the office of national and ethnic minorities for the purpose of government programs and political representation). However, there is a very lively Jewish cultural and intellectual life in Hungary today – with the third largest community of Jews in continental Europe. We hope to bring some more articles and information on these and similar issues dealing with cultural diversity in the near future as we feel they relate to the mandate of this website.
"It is good to be a stranger”
Pál Várnai talks to András Petőcz
Translated from the Hungarian by Esther Ronay. Photos by Gabor Risko.
"It is my belief that everyone is a stranger as an individual and since everyone is a stranger, that is precisely the reason we cannot question someone else’s strangeness or otherness. It is that simple. We ourselves are strangers. Often even to ourselves... And while people have some kind of desperate desire to belong somewhere, as I see it, many people also have a perpetual desire to be outsiders.”
András Petőcz is a poet, fiction writer and artist. 1981-1983: restarted and became editor in chief of the university journal Jelenlét (Presence). Founded the journal and alternative art association Médium Art in 1983. Between 1989 and 1991 he was one of the editors of Magyar Műhely (Hungarian Workshop) which appeared in Paris. In 1988 he restarted Presence again and was editor in chief from 1997. Prizes: Lajos Kassák prize, 1987; Graves prize, 1990; Attila József prize, 1996; János Arany Foundation Writer’s Prize, 2001; Quasimodo prize, 2003; the Sándor Márai prize for the novel Strangers awarded by the Hungarian Ministry of Culture, January, 2008. Most important work: Betűpiramis (Pyramid of letters) (poetry), 1984; A láthatatlan jelenlét (The invisible presence) (poetry), 1990; Európa metaforája (Metaphor for Europe) (poetry), 1991; A tenger dicsérete (In praise of the Sea) (selected poetry), 1994; Idegenként, Európában (As a Stranger in Europe) (essays, short stories), 1997; A napsütötte sávban (In a Row of Sunlight) (poetry), 2001; A születésnap (The Birthday) (novel), 2006; Idegenek (Strangers) (novel), 2007.
For Hungarian version click here.
Menni vagy nem menni?
Egy magyar zsidó fiatalember dilemmái 1956-ban.
To go or not to go? The dilemmas of a young Hungarian Jew in 1956
Egyéves külföldi tartózkodás után, 1945-ben, szerencsésen hazatértem a deportálásból. Hozzáteszem, az életben maradásra akkor egy gyereknek nem volt sok esélye, kivéve, ha budapesti volt, vagy ha azon kevesek közé tartozott, mint jómagam, akit Ausztriába (majd Bergen Belsenbe) vetett a sors. Ehhez azért még az is kellett, hogy a Vörös Hadsereg idejében érkezzen Theresienstadtba (Terezin). Merthogy számomra ez életmentés, felszabadítás volt, bármennyire is nem tetszik ez néhány hazai tollforgatónak.