Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Childish and mature white kings

I finished György Dragomán's "The White King" a few days ago and perhaps it says something about the way I've been branching out recently, but I found the book to be most interesting and quite excellent. It wasn't just the jist of the book - a Hungarian author writing about communist Romania (or thereabouts) through the eyes of a child - but also how the book was done and where it came from. Diversity in literature is always good and "The White King" took me someplace familiar but somehow new.

It's strange to see how the book was received. Published by a major publishing house in March of 2008, it received a few fairly praiseworthy (but simultaneously vague) reviews in a number of different publications and has a small amount of customer reviews on various sites. The customer reviews that do exist are also flattering, though most agree that it's a difficult read. Because it is. Parts of the book made me cringe not because of the writing, but rather because I could recognize the horror of the situation that the 11-year old narrator (nicknamed "Djata", though his real name is never revealed) could not. It is the sign of a competent writer, I think, to create a world that makes the reader at once uncomfortable, eager to read on and completely in tune with the character, viewing the world through the childish eyes yet understanding it with the adult mind.

What is particularly remarkable about "The White King" is the careful balance between adult and child. "Djata" is a preteen living in a Soviet world, telling his story in a childlike manner. On the one hand, he recognizes important moments where he ought to act like an "adult" and yet other times he resorts to younger behaviour patterns, such as reminding the reader of an event that took place a few chapters earlier. He, like many children his age, constantly attempts to act older and more mature in order to prove himself. Yet he holds on tightly to childish hopes and dreams, convincing himself that things will get better, unrealistically. It displays the contradiction that is growing up perfectly, having the childish and the mature side-by-side.

I'm particularly struck by how "technically standard" the book is. Coming-of-age books are so common the genre is cluttered. Books structured with chapter-stories can be found almost everywhere. Stories about the atrocities or the horrors of difficult regimes are not new. Somehow, though, all aspects merge to make a book I liked a great deal. Now, a few days later, I find myself wanting to continue reading it, as though there are more chapters hidden in the back cover. I suppose the ending is unsatisfying in that sense, but I'm not sure I can fault the author. After all, the book is well written, stuck with me and nudged me to write about how "Djata" is an excellent embodiment of the blurry child-adult line. And as for the why the book has not received more press, though, I simply don't know.

1 comment:

  1. Now this sounds really interesting. I like it when an author can do something which has technically been done before but present it in a unique way. And I have little experience with this period of history and geography...

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