István Örkény was born in Budapest, Hungary, on April 5, 1912. His father, a well-to-do pharmacist, was by Örkény’s account a generous man with his money, and through sheer improvidence he eventually lost all four of his Budapest pharmacies. A man of a dying age, he participated in no fewer than twelve duels. Örkény was, on his father’s side, of Jewish descent but was reared a Catholic, if not a particularly devout one. He attended the Piarist gymnasium in Budapest, where he studied Latin and Greek. By the time Örkény was graduated in 1930, he was conversant in German, French, and English as well. After an inauspicious two years at the Polytechnic University at Budapest, where he studied chemical engineering, in 1932 Örkény enrolled at the University of Arts and Sciences.
In 1934 he received his diploma, and in the same year he cofounded the short-lived periodical Keresztmetszet, of which he would also be main financier. It was in this periodical that Örkény’s first writings were to appear, but they did not yet bespeak any great talent. In 1937 he became involved with the liberal-radical periodical Szép Szó, where the first version of his short story “Tengertánc” (sea dance) was published. Also in 1937, Örkény married Flóra Gönczi. He spent 1938 in London and much of 1939 in Paris, eking out a living. In 1939, on Hungary’s declaration of war, Örkény returned home. That year he reenrolled at the...
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