(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Loser begins and ends in the Hungary of the 1980’s, when the revolutionary fervor of the Hungarian Communists, who had welcomed the Russians as liberators both from the older hierarchical regime and from the Nazis, has been replaced by disillusionment. The narrator, known only as T, who is upper-class by birth but a Communist by conviction, has spent much of his life in forced labor camps, in military service, or in prison. Always somewhat alienated because he is Jewish, always suspect because of his intellectual independence, in his later years he has been confined in a mental institution.

In the first section of the novel, T describes life in the asylum, which becomes a metaphor for life under Communist rule, where, as he says to the director, the people presumed to be insane are actually permitted more freedom of thought and speech than anyone else. At the end of the section, T is released; with his marriage destroyed and his career in suspension, however, he has little interest in life.

The next three sections of the novel trace the narrator’s history in chronological order. The second section begins with T’s farewell to his younger brother Dani, who is leaving that night for the West. Dani, an energetic, irrational young man with a dangerous appetite for excitement, says that he no longer trusts himself with his temperamental, whorish girlfriend, Teri, who is as destructive and untrustworthy as the present political system. If he cannot free himself from the system and from her, Dani says, he may kill either Teri or himself.

After Dani leaves, T recalls his youth: the prosperous, secure environment in which he grew up; his kindly shopkeeper grandfather whose honesty and charity denied the usual assumptions about greedy, bourgeois Jews; his lusty, devoted grandmother. He remembers his delicate mother and roistering father, the nursemaid and the young aunt who initiated him into sexuality, and other characters who were part of a world which seemed destined to endure forever.


(The entire section is 834 words.)