Critical Context

The justice of George Konrád’s indictment of his Communist Hungary is evidenced by the fact that only his first book, A latogato (1969; The Case Worker, 1974), was printed in Hungary and that despite his growing international reputation only that work is mentioned in contemporary Hungarian literary histories. Budapest bookstores do not stock any of Konrád’s works. Obviously they must be circulated privately, for intellectuals who will not discuss them are clearly familiar with them.

The Case Worker evidently did not offend the authorities because it did not seem to criticize the system, but instead expressed the frustration of a juvenile welfare worker whose acceptance of the realities of slum life is challenged by his feelings of responsibility for a five-year-old retarded child, whose parents have committed suicide. Even though The Case Worker denies the easy official optimism of Communism and points out the fact that society has no real answers for such problems, it does not focus on the shortcomings of the system, as do Konrád’s later works.

While The City Builder lacks the unity which was provided by the earlier novel’s focus on the relationship between two individuals and on one immediate problem, substituting the relationships between the narrator and his city, his parents and grandparents, his wife and his son, for a single, clearer line of development, it is a memorable book, primarily for moving scenes, such as those of the flood and of the earthquake, and for clearly realized characters, such as the father, the wife, and the son. In the book which followed The City Builder, A cinkos (1980; The Loser, 1982), Konrád moves from the essaylike technique, which can lose the reader, to more careful plotting and therefore to a stunning effect. As he has developed, it is clear that Konrád is one of the most important voices from contemporary Eastern Europe.