Interview – 23rd April, 2018

From a revolution to a pork sausage – Interview with Mátyás Sárközi

Interview–23rd April, 2018


From a revolution to a pork sausage – Interview with Mátyás Sárközi

I'm working on an edited English version of my own 'Letters from Zugliget' and hope to live long enough to see it completed. – Mark Baczoni's interview with Mátyás Sárközi, writer, translator and editor.

You turned eighty last year and are still as active as ever. You've been a journalist, broadcaster, writer, and translator. How did you start translating? And is it something you still enjoy doing?

Of course, despite my age, I still write books (the next one you'll find at the Budapest Book Week in June), work as a London correspondent for a Hungarian radio station, and regularly publish articles in magazines. As far as translating is concerned, through the years with my roughs I assisted the compilation of various English-language lyric anthologies and translated three books into Hungarian: Louis Hagen's 'In the Shadow of the Swastika', Géza Vermes's 'The Changing Faces of Jesus' and his autobiography 'Providential Accidents' (it took me some time to think of a suitable Hungarian title for the last one of these.)

You left Hungary in 1956. Was there much awareness of Hungarian literature or culture when you arrived in London? Has that changed over the years?

At the time of my arrival to Britain there was a special interest in everything Hungarian because of the 1956 Revolution. Since then only two fields of Hungarian culture remain in the focus of interest: films and music. Books are rarely translated, plays are not put on. Which is a pity.

Are there any Hungarian writers you wish were better known in English?

Yes. Of course, Hungarian poetry has always been stronger than Hungarian prose. Translation requires great skill and even then, the subject matter can be too special to interest the English reader.

I'm working on an edited English version of my own 'Letters from Zugliget' and hope to live long enough to see it completed.

You worked for the BBC for a long time on their Hungarian Service. How was it broadcasting back into the Hungary that you'd left?

I worked in the Hungarian Section of the BBC as an editor, reporter, writer and newsreader for more than forty years, until the BBC's broadcasts in Hungarian came to an end. I couldn't visit Hungary for thirty-three years. I'm glad that the day-to-day long distance contact with the old country, enabled me to keep up with developments there, and also preserved my Hungarian writing skills.

You recently left a significant portion of your library to the Library of Siófok. How did that come about? Why Siófok?

During the Holocaust, a Siófok-Balatonkiliti couple saved my life, taking me into their family, pretending that I was an illegitimate child of their unmarried daughter. I've donated my special 1956 collection of books, about 350 volumes, to the Siófok Public Library in their memory. I'm still sending boxes of books to it, and eventually Siófok will inherit my eight thousand books.

You write regularly for Hungarian journals and magazines, and travel frequently to Budapest, though you're based in London. Where do you feel more at home? How has your relationship to Hungary, and to Hungarian literature changed over the years?

I now have a comfortable apartment in Budapest, equipped with everything I may need to carry on working there. During the last twenty years I became an established Hungarian writer, a laureate of the coveted József Attila Prize.

I plan to spend more time in Hungary.

I may be British, a faithful subject of Her Majesty the Queen and a good tax-payer, but I haven't yet shed a single drop of tear over the loss of India, and when I'm given a choice, I prefer gyulai kolbász to its English counterpart, the so-called pork sausage, with its stuffing made of, I think, wet stockings.

(Photo: Eszter Gordon)

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