Magda Szabo (1917-2007) proves in The Door to be an astounding writer. In contrast, the other woman --the woman writer-- as narrator seems subjected to the will of the strong elderly servant. If the name of Emerence is introduced at the very beginning of the book, the name of the woman writer, Magdchen, which is also Szabos name, is only mentioned, in passing, towards the end. For, as she tells us, at the very beginning: I killed Emerence And this chilling start prompts the telling of the story that led to this, the relationship between two beings that The Door separates.
The Door by Magda Szabo is a fictionalized autobiography of the author's relationship with her octogenarian housekeeper named Emerence Szerebas. A goodreads friend from Hungary recommended this novel to me because she sees that I enjoy reading women authors from around the globe. Despite the grief and despair occurred over a lifetime, Emerence has accumulated a neighborhood of admirers who see nothing but the Emerence who sweeps the streets, maintains an apartment building, and cares for others in their homes, including Magda. Emerence and Magda develop a deep relationship that is not fully realized until the end, including the shared caring for a dog named Viola who comes to see both women as her owners. Even though Magda is seen as self absorbed and Emerence as cold, over the course of the novel I came to deeply admire the two women as did the people who lived in their neighborhood.
Magda Szabó's The Door - an intense story, a haunting story, a fiercely compelling story of the relationship between two women living in a Hungarian village: Magda, a married writer and Emerence, a mysterious housekeeper possessing qualities of epic proportions. To my eye the above portrait by Hungarian born artist Csaba Markus captures what Emerence must have looked like as a younger woman. We are in a Hungarian village and listen in as an established author by the name of Magda recounts her experience over the course of twenty years, from, say, about 1965 to 1985, living in a large apartment with her husband, a university instructor, and dog. However, the heart of the heart of this tale centers around Magda and older Emerence, an illiterate woman of peasant stock with almost superhuman strength and endurance for work in the service of others. A number of other men and women strut and fret their minutes on the pages of the novel - the son of Emerence's brother ("Józsi's boy"), a Lieutenant Colonel and three old women, friends of Emerence: Adélka, Polett, Sutu - but Emerence is the true dramatic presence and it is Emerence whom I will make the focus of my review. Although Emerence is illiterate, she reminds me specifically of Marguerite Porete, a Beguine, mystic and author of The Mirror of Simple Souls emphasizing the power of love as infinitely more important than following Church rules. But this tireless woman never permitted her dedication to her neighbors to slacken - among her many chores: clearing snow from eleven different buildings and raising Viola, the dog Magda and her husband take in. You never grasp what is simple." Emerence the fierce individual In the end, all of what I have noted above can be tossed in the fire - there is no doubt, Emerence is her own woman, one who defies categorization.
La porta non è un romanzo autobiografico, non lo è anche se la protagonista è una scrittrice che si chiama Magda, e non è neppure un romanzo realistico. La porta parla di una scrittrice, che è la voce narrante, che vive in Ungheria in un paese che però si capisce essere un quartiere della capitale, insieme a suo marito, a sua volta scrittore. Le loro opere sono state vietate, ma un po prima che questa storia abbia inizio, sono state riammesse e riabilitate: la scrittrice narratrice può tornare a scrivere, quindi, non avrà più tempo per occuparsi delleconomia domestica e avrà bisogno di aiuto. Le parlano bene di unanziana di nome Emerenc che cucina e pulisce per tutti gli abitanti della strada e del quartiere, si prende cura dei bambini, spazza la strada dalle foglie morte e dinverno dalla neve. Un tesoro che dilaga quando Emerenc si ammala, nellultima parte del pagine: a questo punto si intuisce che dietro la porta cè uno scrigno (davanti alla porta cè effettivamente una vecchia enorme pesantissima cassaforte) pieno di gemme preziose. Szabo ci fa credere che tutto si svolga in un paesino: la strada dove tutti si conoscono, personaggi ricalcati su sterotipi del paese (ma anche come se fossero usciti da una parabola: il poliziotto buono, il fornaio), solidarietà umana e anche tanta sfacciata curiosità (privacy bandita e sempre impicciarsi degli affari altrui). Una scrittura così sapiente che sa trasformare personaggi intollerabili in creature indimenticabili: Emerenc è burbera e sgradevole al limite della brutalità, di quelle che si vanterebbero di non avere peli sulla lingua; la scrittrice è lamentosa e pusillanime. Magda ed Emerenc si sono riconosciute, nel profondo hanno capito di essere composte dalla stessa materia, parlano la stessa lingua anche se sembrano non capirsi, hanno frequenti scontri, il silenzio è spesso la loro forma di comunicazione. Personalmente, invece, trovo particolarmente affascinante questaltro percorso di lettura: siamo alla presenza di un io narrante che è una scrittrice, la quale scrive e racconta di unaltra donna, unamica speciale. Poi, certo, davanti alla porta succede davvero poco, mentre le vicende di Lila e Lenù sono uniradidio. PS Il film del regista Ivan Szabo (Mephisto), che credo sia solo omonimo, non parente della scrittrice, è una trasposizione sciapa, didascalica, messa in scena con maldestrezza, visivamente a livello di una fiction Mediaset.
"I know now, what I didn't then, that affection can't always be expressed in calm, orderly, articulate ways; and that one cannot prescribe the form it should take for anyone else." What an unusual sort of book and a very peculiar relationship examined therein between Magda, the narrator of The Door, and her housekeeper, Emerence. As time goes by, however, the various layers of Emerence are peeled back for Magda's eyes only and we, as readers, slowly learn about this eccentric as well. Emerence detests those that work with their minds rather than their hands and she was not afraid to point this out to Magda "You think there'll always be someone to cook and clean for you, a plate full of food, paper to scribble on, the master to love you; and everyone will live for eternity, like a fairy tale; and the only problem you might encounter is bad things written about you in the papers, which I'm sure is a terrible disgrace, but then why did you choose such a low trade, where any bandit can pour shit over you? You're not very bright, and you know nothing about people." No matter how charitable a person, what gives them the right to speak in this way to another human being? Yet Magda wants to please Emerence and be worthy of her love almost in the same way as Viola the dog would do anything for her true master, Emerence. In the end, will Magda stand by Emerence and do right by her?
I liked other people's even less. How irrational, how unpredictable is the attraction between people, how fatal its current. To unlock that wooden door, it was necessary to find the key to Emerences heart first. A synonym for Vulnerability can easily be depicted as that one person and for Emerence, that person was her employer, our narrator. With the charm of a legend, the credibility of everyday life and the sanctity of a heartfelt writing, this book made me see another glorious aspect of Hungarian world.
Author Magda Szabó keeps a tight control over the narrative, allowing details to take on clarity very gradually as when a piece of photographic paper lying in a chemical bath slowly reveals the image that has been projected onto it. And in spite of briefly revealing the end of the story at the beginning, Magda narrates from the position of the reader as regards how the story will play out, i.e., she acts as if she were completely in the dark (quite a neat trick given she resembles the author so closely). But it is such moments that allow the character of Emerence to be further developed, and so Magda's foolishness serves the author's purpose perfectly.
I dont wash just anyones dirty linen, Emerence says, coming to see their flat in her ceremonial headscarf and taking her time deciding whether they will suit her before she takes over the household, turns up for work whenever she feels like it, and bonds with the dog in a way no one else can. Emerence is primitive, demanding, and without religion in a way that makes her somehow full of Gods wrath. Until she met 'the author' and the latter's husband, Emerence never allowed anyone into her personal space or circle of trust. No person is an island, although life forced Emerence to create her own hide-away since she was a young girl of nine-years-old. The autobiographical tidbits Emerence told the young author were impossible, folk ballads in prose. Away from Emerence who was unable to tell the author that she loved her, or needed her. The author misunderstood her words, just like the Lieutenant Colonel did not speak the same language as Emerence when it came to expressing their feelings and emotions. In the introduction to the book the translator says:...unless we read other languages, we miss out on superlative novels like The Door by Magda Szabó. But The Door is so full-blooded and stately a book that it clearly belongs with a shelf of equally fully made creations by the (now elderly) Szabó, every one of which the reader will want to find after finishing this compelling, funny, and horrifying novel, translated by Len Rix in a rich and calm tone. I first watched the movie, available on Youtube, in which Helen Mirren portrays Emerence brilliantly, before reading the book. And all of a sudden, we see Emerence as the traumatized nine-year-old little girl hiding inside the bravado and toughness of the ageing housekeeper. Yet, I found the book a fascinating read as well, and wanted to relive the life of Emerence through the prose again. It was well worth the read and a thought-provoking experience about the different emotional languages we all use to express the memories we dared not talk about. We have different ways of building those protecting walls around ourselves and when a community have to deal with a crisis, we suddenly have difficulty in understanding each other's words while talking the same language. The author communicated her thoughts and regrets directly with the reader, which makes it a great experience.
After the death of its final leaf, the trees lay barren like a country that had abruptly lost its people. When I open the pages of The Door , my heart beats faster than the breeze on my window and my lips are bitten while I take deep breathes, for Emerence brings out my emotional vulnerabilities ; letting my scars bleed through someone elses wounds. Sometimes the strongest women are the ones who love beyond all faults, cry behind closed doors and fight battles that nobody knows- Anon. Emerence comes across as an eccentric, arrogant lady bearing an unfathomable obscurity. When the writer hires Emerence as a caretaker, a series of love-hate relationship flourishes between the two ladies. With every tiny window that Emerence opened,it led a draft of fresh air into Emerences concealed life whilst the writer gaining confidence of someday being the owner of the clandestine key. The fragmentary chronicling of Emerences life demarcates the historical events that led the foundation of a burgeoning country and its people. Lord kills too..." Szabo makes it decisively known to the reader, the mindset of war victims and people who were spectators to the bloodbath of a countrys egotistical power battle and their probable abhorrence to religious validations. The Door is a powerful metaphoric representation of a woman and several others like Emerence who rather live a restrictive yet dignified life dwelling in the opaqueness of a wooden door than drowning in the nakedness of merciful alms. Emerence was more than a categorical flower; she was a truly great lady, pure as the stars . Szabos writings make me reflect whether we who belong to the generation that frets on the mere number of likes acquired on a social website, ever tried to know people like Emerence who have seen a country grow, perish and once again grow? There are several who have move past the atrocities of egotistical power hoarders and have a flourishing life, but what about those who have closed all doors and have lost the key of faith along the way. Like a truly great commander she settled everything around her in person, with a single impressive gesture.
Emerence is a character I will not soon forget, a woman who has seen much, sheltered unbiasedly different people throughout the war, a hardworking woman of the utmost honor and pride. The title has many different meanings in this book, the literal door and other doors, internal and psychological.
Her most widely read novel, Abigél ("Abigail", 1970), is an adventure story about a schoolgirl boarding in eastern Hungary during the war. She received several prizes in Hungary, and her works have been published in 42 countries. Abigél was also chosen as the sixth most popular novel at the Hungarian version of Big Read.