(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The City Builder is a stream-of-consciousness novel, narrated in the present tense, which explores the mind of a Hungarian city planner who has become disillusioned with his stagnant, bureaucratic, and repressive society. Each of the ten chapters has a central preoccupation and is further unified by the settings, characters, and symbolic patterns which are emphasized.

As the novel begins, the narrator is an airline passenger, resolving to withdraw into himself in order to avoid disturbing the fragile peace in the city where he will land. Yet his apartment, which should have been a haven, reminds him of the failures of his life: the ideal city, which was never realized because of bureaucratic corruption; the ideal marriage, which perished when his beloved wife was killed in a senseless car accident; the ideal son, whose own soul and body were damaged when he was thrown into prison and who at the end of the book may well have died in the earthquake which has destroyed the town.

In the second chapter, the airplane setting changes to a train, and the narrator thinks back to the waves of conquest which have swept across Eastern Europe from time to time as the train now moves across the land. The Romans, the Tartars, the Austrians, the Nazis have come and gone, leaving generation after generation of Hungarians to bury their dead, to rebuild the cities, and to begin living again.

Even times which seemed secure have been subject...

(The entire section is 599 words.)