Sándor Tar - thirty-one stories centered on the inhabitants of Crooked Street, the tail end of a small village in southern Hungary bounded at one end by a down-and-out bar where most of the characters find their consolation in alcohol, banter, sex, yearning for love, and recounting far-flung tales. Each story of Our Street reflects on and extends the next, whereby a gallery of memorable characters emerge to reveal even more, an incisive portrait of a society in disintegration
Sándor Tar, Our Street, Trans. by Judith Sollosy, Contra Mundum Press, 2015.
excerpt and here and here (pdf)
Our Street, Sándor Tar's fifth book, is comprised of thirty-one stories centered on the inhabitants of Crooked Street, the tail end of a small village in southern Hungary bounded at one end by a down-and-out bar where most of the characters find their consolation in alcohol, banter, sex, yearning for love, and recounting far-flung tales. Each story of Our Street reflects on and extends the next, whereby a gallery of memorable characters emerge to reveal even more, an incisive portrait of a society in disintegration. Honing in on each character's struggle to salvage their self-respect after the demise of communism and the 1989 regime change, Tar dramatizes the difficulties of survival as the people of Crooked Street face the loss of their jobs, the soil from under their feet, and their hopes. This gallery of distinctive characters includes Uncle Vida, an old man who grows vegetables he cannot sell, the always proud Mancika, who is found lying on the tracks waiting for a speeding train, and the reverend Márton Végső, who tends to the needs of the villagers with an equanimity that springs from resignation rather than moral or spiritual resolve. Through these and other figures, one is drawn into a world both captivating and harrowing. Yet the stories are told with such humor, understanding, and sympathy that the book reaffirms the characters' humanity and endows them with dignity. Our Street takes us into terrain that most would not have known were it not for Sándor Tar. As the first translation into English of one of Tar's books, Anglophone readers will at last come to understand why many contemporary Hungarian authors have expressed unreserved admiration for his writing.
Each story zeroes in on the life of a man or woman trying to survive in this confined space as best they can, which each finding his own answer to the question of survival, and most of whom, left them without jobs or sustenance, find their strength and consolation in alcohol. As Tar’s contemporary Ádám Bodor said, "Sándor Tar chose to remain where the other writers have left. He has not forgotten what brings a sudden silence to a pub." Yet the intertwining stories of the people on Our Street are told with such absurdity, pain, understanding and humour that paradoxically, the book reaffirms their humanity and gives each of the characters the gift of dignity. Accordingly, he manages the seemingly impossible and, paradoxically, Our Street makes for a pleasant read. It most certainly makes for a haunting one.
"Our Street appears 'anachronistic' not by virtue of its realism (this is a variety of realism that is more sophisticated than one would think at first glance), but by virtue of its humanism. We have got unused to this word. If one chooses to write about people who live a life of indolence, the upper crust (the beautiful and the rich) is always an easier topic than the unemployed (the ugly ones, etc.). What can an honest prose writer do with dazzling and boring people but look for the animal in them? And what can a writer who undertakes to write about the habitual customers of a down-and-out pub find but human beings?... The cathartic summary of Sándor Tar’s masterpiece is as follows: vegetating is beautiful." - István Kemény
Sándor Tar: Slow Freight