The Door, Magda Szabó’s final novel, at last made her famous outside Hungary thanks to Len Rix’s magnificent 2005 translation. In Hungary itself, the eight novels she produced between 1959 and 1970 made her the country’s most popular living novelist. In the 1960s several of her books were published in English by Corvina, the Hungarian state publisher, but the translators, a non-native English speaker and an English woman whose skills had been blunted translating For a Socialist Hungary by the Communist Party boss János Kádár, were lacklustre and the books poorly distributed. Since 1990, Szabó’s work has appeared in French and German but, apparently because a major British publisher sat on the rights, only now has MacLehose published Iza’s Ballad (Pilátus in the original), translated by George Szirtes, and the two books under review, both translated by Len Rix.
Szabó’s work was banned by Hungary’s Stalinist government from 1949 to 1956. Yet the novels she wrote under the milder but still repressive regime that governed Hungary in the 1960s make no concession to the prevailing ideology or to ‘socialist realism’. Her protagonists (often married women or schoolgirls)