Péter Esterházy in 2013 – Photo: wikipedia

Péter Esterházy in the streets he called home

Photos, quotes celebrate a son of Óbuda

Forty posters displaying previously unpublished photos of celebrated Hungarian writer Péter Esterházy and popular quotes of his chosen by contemporary writers and poets have gone on public display in the streets of Óbuda, where the author lived all his life until his death aged 66 in July 2016.

The local District III council and cultural magazine Óbudai Anziksz created the posters and they will be on show until May 14, having been set up on what would have been Esterhazy’s 71st birthday on April 14, 2021.

The images are the work of photographer Áron Erdőháti, who took them at Írók Boltja (Writers’ Shop) on Andrássy út in 2015. Óbuda has launched a PE71 campaign, with postcard-sized copies of the 40 posters being offered as gifts with each coffee at the Esernyős Café on District III’s Fő tér. This cultural centre includes a gallery and information point.

Esterházy was born in Budapest on April 14, 1950, the eldest son of Mátyás Esterházy de Galántha (1919-1998, Count Esterházy until 1947, when all titles and ranks were abolished) and Magdolna Mányoki (1916-1980). His paternal grandfather was Count Móric Esterházy (1881-1960), who briefly served as Prime Minister of Hungary in 1917.

Through his paternal grandmother Countess Margit Károlyi (1896–1975), one of his ancestors was Count Gyula Károlyi (1871-1947), also Prime Minister from 1931 to 1932. Péter had three younger brothers, including international football player Márton Esterházy (born 1956).

Esterházy was educated as a mathematician and began to write in the 1970s. He is perhaps best known outside of Hungary for “Harmonia Caelestis” (Celestial Harmonies, 2000), which chronicles his forefathers’ epic rise during the Austro-Hungarian empire to their dispossession under communism.

His next novel, “Javított kiadás” (Revised Edition or Corrected Version, 2002), which appeared as an appendix to the former work, deals with his realisation that his father was an informer for the secret police during the communist era.

After the regime change in 1989, Esterházy declined to accept the return of any land or valuables nationalised by the communists, saying he had no need.

Many of his other works also deal with the experience of living under a communist regime and in a post-communist country.  He wrote in a style that can be characterised as postmodernist and his prose was described by American writer John Updike as “jumpy, allusive and slangy. …there is vividness, an electric crackle. The sentences are active and concrete. Physical details leap from the murk of emotional ambivalence”.

In an obituary published by Reuters, his literary technique was described as “Employing a stop-and-go rhythm, his writing concentrated on twists and surprises rather than straight narrative lines, combining personal experiences with references, quotes and all shades of jokes from sarcasm to toilet humour, sometimes including texts of other authors.”

Esterházy’s works have been published in more than 20 languages. He was awarded several literary distinctions in Hungary, including the prestigious Kossuth Prize in 1996, and received awards for his work in France, Austria, Germany, Slovenia and Poland.

He was highly critical of the authoritarian tendencies of Viktor Orbán’s administration, declaring that “Orbán is not a statesman” and “the Orbán system is damaging to Hungary. Our Democracy is not liberal, freedom of the press is limited, and the division of power is inadequate.”

He was married to Margit Reén, and had four children. He died of pancreatic cancer on July 14, 2016.

Leave a Reply