Magazine article World Literature Today

The Color of Smoke

Magazine article World Literature Today

The Color of Smoke

Article excerpt

Menyhért Lakatos. The Color of Smoke. Ann Major, tr. Williamstown, Massachusetts. New Europe Books. 2015. 480 pages.

Menyhért Lakatos is acclaimed as Hungary's foremost Romani author, and his novel Füstos képek, translated by Ann Major as The Color of Smoke, is considered to be his magnum opus. It is semi-autobiographical, based loosely on his own experiences as a young man coming of age in Hungary ln the 1930s and early 1940s. Lakatos (1927- 2007) is also the award-winning author of two novels, a novella, five collections of stories, and one volume of poetry. The Color of Smoke first appeared in its original Hungarian-language edition in 1975. It is a picaresque and somewhat salacious odyssey of a nameless protagonist, written in the first person, who grows up as a member of a marginalized minority group, living in a shantytown ironically called "Gypsy Paris."

As a child, Lakatos's protagonist is drawn to his grandmother; her stories are his link to a former and better nomadic existence in the now-defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire. She is the conduit from the vanished past of the Roma and their everworsening present as Hungary is drawn more and more into totalitarianism. His life suddenly changes when a near-tragic but fortuitous event enables him to attend high school until he is expelled, along with the Jewish students, after Hungary joins the fascist camp.

Lakatos skillfully weaves Romani customs, language, and even herbal remedies into the story as the novel's characters interact with one another and with the greater non-Romani world. …

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