Critical Context

With the publication of A latogato (1969; The Case Worker, 1974), Konrád was recognized in Hungary as an outstanding writer. A varosalapito (1977; The City Builder, 1977) and The Loser, which are clearer attacks on the repressive system into which Communism has evolved, were circulated by the process called samizdat (self-publishing, or private circulation), while being officially published outside Hungary. With each book, Konrád’s reputation has grown; yet each book has its strengths and its weaknesses.

The Case Worker is a poignant and universal story of a social worker’s involvement with a defective child, whose parents were driven to suicide by their hopeless situation. The book was praised because of its effectiveness within its narrow focus. On the other hand, The City Builder is far more diffuse, lacking a forward-moving plot and seeming to some critics to be simply an exploration of the consciousness of the protagonist, a city planner who has become disillusioned as the dream of progress deteriorates into a fearful and stagnant bureaucracy. Although Konrád’s descriptive passages have always been admired, in The City Builder there seems to be no development in plot or character to relate those vivid passages. With The Loser, Konrád combines the development of The Case Worker with the scope of The City Builder to produce a gripping novel.

In all of his works, as the critics have pointed out, consciousness is primary. The world is seen through the eyes of a single narrator, who is also the protagonist. An educated, sensitive person with an intellectual’s capacity for independent thought, the narrator can relate events to the movements of history as well as to his own experience. It is interesting that, as the works progress, the narrator seems to become more detached, even from his own emotions. In critical response to The Loser, there has been some disagreement as to whether T’s aloofness is meant to represent a personal reaction or the final destruction of any self in the repressive state. There is also disagreement as to whether the protagonist is a sympathetic figure or a satirical target. In any case, the clear structure of the novel leaves no confusion about the events which shape the protagonist. That his character is complex enough to cause such critical discussion may be an indication of Konrád’s mastery of his form.