Review – 6th March, 2016

The best years of our lives

Zoltán Danyi: Clearing Away the Carcasses

Review–6th March, 2016


Zoltán Danyi: Clearing Away the Carcasses

In Europe, the continent that learnt the lessons of World War II, there have been no wars for 70 years. It has become a civilized, humanistic place. Except for the events that went on for ten years beyond Hungary’s southern borders.

Before we rush to label those events as acts of unbridled barbarism, or adopt some other journalistic slogan, we must realize that this jargon tells us nothing about the actual experience of war. The book of Zoltán Danyi, who created fiction out of his youth (his "best years," he says) spent in the sign of the Yugoslav wars, is an exceptional text, because he created a language for this experience―a language that owes a lot to László Krasznahorkai.

This is a mercilessly precise and spare, yet sensual, language, which is typified by long sentences, and is apt for relating a systematically broken, invented life. The reader witnesses how the trauma of destruction and deterioration is reflected even in basic life functions: digestion, bowel movement, or the inability to perform these as the power of trauma devours not only psychological but physical integrity as well.

It is perhaps the precise description of this process that is the main focus of this shockingly beautiful and disturbingly funny novel. The story is rich in figures, places and allusions: Radovan Karadžić, the former president of the Republika Srpska―also referred to as the 'butcher of Bosnia'―appears as an alternative medicine practitioner; the haunting memory of a brutal murder is evoked, glimpsed by accident while taking a pee; we get an insight into the machinations of the mafia, including fuel smuggling on the Hungarian–Serbian border―appurtenances of a decade in which Yugoslavia was systematically destroyed, and which will never end for the unnamed narrator, or his readers.

The best of such literature, including Danyi’s book, depicts traumatic experience without making the reader suffer. And if there is anything in such merciless literature that has a cathartic effect, it is perhaps that. The title of the novel, impossible to translate in its one-word compactness (literally "the one who clears away the carcasses"), could be a metaphor of this cruel absolution which is unable either to remember or to forget.

Zoltán Danyi: Clearing Away the Carcassing
(A dögeltakarító, Magvető)

This article was originally published in Hungarian at

György Vári


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