As a stylistic innovator and social critic, blending political vision and modernist technique, George Konrád (KAWN-rahd) is one of the most important contemporary Hungarian writers. He was born György Konrád in eastern Hungary, where his father was the owner of a farm machinery shop. During the Nazi occupation in 1944, his parents were arrested, along with other Jews. Fearing arrest, eleven-year-old Konrád found his father’s hidden money and escaped with his younger sister by bribing the local police to give them rail passes to Budapest, where their aunt lived. The day after they left, all the Jews were deported. The women and children were sent to concentration camps in Auschwitz, while the men were sent to work as forced laborers on the Ukrainian front. In Budapest, Konrád and his sister were hidden from the Nazis, along with other Jewish children. When they returned home in 1945, they found the Jewish men of their village waiting futilely for their families to return.
After World War II, Konrád enrolled in Madách Gymnasium in Budapest. After graduating in 1951, he began advanced studies at Lenin Institute, but he later transferred to Eötvös Loránd University and completed a degree there as a literature teacher in 1956. He briefly taught at the Gymnasium in the industrial district of Csepel in Budapest, but by 1959 he had become a caseworker for juveniles and held a second position as an editor for the publishing firm Magyar Helikon. Beginning in 1965, he served as a sociologist at the Institute for Research and Planning for City-Building and worked for several years at the Hungarian Academy’s Institute for Literary Scholarship. After 1974, he supported himself on the foreign royalties from his books published abroad.
At first known as a social critic and literary scholar, Konrád published his first novel, The Case Worker, in 1969. His narrator, an anonymous, middle-aged bureaucrat named “T,” recounts a typical day’s experiences in trying to meet the needs of his clients—the indigent, elderly, alcoholic, abused, and abandoned. The narrator confesses that he can do little for his clients except “regulate the traffic of suffering.” Much of the novel focuses on the plight of Ferike Bandula, a five-year-old retarded child whose...
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