"The streetsweeper was a sort of cerebral chewing gum that Gyuri popped in on long journeys."Cerebral chewing gum. A little more substantial than eye candy. Gyuri was on the train, chewing on the benefits of being a streetsweeper, a job that seemed possible, anywhere, and
"wouldn't need an examination in Marxism-Leninism, you wouldn't have to look at pictures of Kákosi or whoever had superbriganded their way to the top lately. You wouldn't have to hear about gamboling production figures, going up by leaps and bounds, higher even than the Plan had predicted because the power of Socialist production had been underestimated. Being a streetsweeper would be quite agreeable, Gyuri reflected. You'd be out in the open, doing healthy work, seeing things. It was the very humility of this fantasy, its frugality that gave the greatest pleasure, since Gyuri hoped this could facilitate its coming to pass. It wasn't as if he were pestering Providence for a millionaireship or to be handed the presidency of the United States. How could anyone refuse a request to be a streetsweeper?
This book, which the author bio and everything I can find online says, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1992, is full of such cerebral chewing gum. Images that are startlingly fresh and potent, as Fischer follows Gyuri (also with the surname Fischer), a Hungarian basketball player through the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
One of the more endearing characters is the Jesuit Ladányi who was a former champion of eating contests. He talks to the 19 year old Gyuri about his belief that it was time to leave Hungary (1949.)
"'Not at all. Firstly, as I'm sure you know, it's not easy to get out any more, and secondly, and I should point out this is not an idea patented by the church, matter doesn't matter. It's not physical conditions that count, but your opinion of them. Take the farmer in the small village in the middle of China who is the happiest man in the world because he has two pigs and no one else in the village has got one. Living isn't like basketball, it's not a question of points, but what's here.' Gyuri saw Ladányi touch his forehead with his forefinger. 'You only lose if you give up - and if you give up you deserve to lose. In basketball, you can be beaten. Otherwise you can only be beaten if you agree to it. You're lucky, you're very lucky. We're living in testing circumstances; unless you're very dull, you should want to be stretched.'" (pp. 76-7)Of course, this paragraph neatly espouses a belief of this blog - what matters is how your head interprets the 'facts' your senses send it. And that constantly being stretched is a good thing. So, savor the fact that we live now in testing circumstances.
The originality, and occasional oddness, of Fischer's prose caused me to look to see who the translator had been. None was mentioned. In the bio I discovered that Fischer is British. Online I discovered he'd been born to two Hungarian basketball players, who'd only come to England three years earlier.
There was a torn piece of paper in the book on which was written, "This is Carol's book, return it to her. M" So, Carol, as soon as I'm done, it will be yours again. Thanks.
Here's a follow up post - Women I Almost Slept With.