It is perhaps unnecessary to introduce Judit Lőrinczy to the readers of this site. Her first novel, Balancing Stones, is being made available to the public in these very moments at the Week of Books Festival. However, we are not dealing with a beginner-level author; she published short stories in the Galaktika Magazine, she had a play put on stage in London, and also won a literary award.
In spite of the fact that the siege of Stalingrad is considered one of the turning points of World War II, it is fairly underrepresented in world war literature. Yet this is not the only reason why Balancing Stones is special, but because of apart from the fact that it is based on very thorough and accurate research, it was formed by the author’s hands into a literary text which goes beyond the usual questions of world war; the question of guilt – both individual and collective –, the indifference of leaders towards the fate of common soldiers, the extermination and sacrifice of civilian popularity, the hidden, internal political lines of force.
In my opinion, what we finally got (or we will finally going to get our hands on) shows universal truths beyond human faults and fallibilities. It’s about wherever we come from, we head towards the same fate as everybody else; our doom. Sins and suffering can become literary material, for language has a hard time expressing it. Balancing Stones is standing on the border of this opportunity of expression. A book cannot say any more, yet does not settle for anything less.
The plot revolves around the ramble of four very different characters during the siege. It goes without saying that their fate is connected. Two Russian and two German characters, an officer, a sniper, a foot soldier and a female pilot; one of them repents, the other was lost on his way to meet death, the third one survives and keeps alive, and the fourth one has to make a choice between life and death. Their presentation is intentionally unbiased, the focus is on their human side, and not which fraction they belong to. Apart from the trek in the dark forest, we learn the course of the battle, supported with field letters and actual historical characters. We are all familiar with how the story ends, the actual stake is not the defence or the occupation of the city, but the end of that other, hidden war which is fought between the mysterious Ferryman and Stalingrad/Caricin.
The main character of the novel, the city itself, is also a borderland. The border of two opposing forces, two human worlds, and of forces we would not even assume to exist at the beginning of our reading. The process of transforming the war literature into a metaphoric level step by step begins very early in the text, so at the end the readers get something completely different than what they started out with. But the facts remain to be facts – many took care that the ages to come will learn about the “reality” of the battle. It is undisputable that World War II, including the Battle of Stalingrad, was very well-documented, but under or over the historical facts there is always the story of human existence. The novel intentionally deals with existential and not historical questions; the fate of individuals, and the basic human community: home.
The text itself is much more of high standard than what the audience could expect from the first novel of an author – we should be grateful for the many years the author invested into her work and the well-done editing –, it can be said without hesitation that it is nicer and more elaborated than many other new publications of high literature. Her sentences create an incredible atmosphere (and it is a rare occasion that they seem unfinished), and the reader can almost feel how this era creeps up on the soul. It comes down on us, pulls us down, covers us, like the killing snow of a great Russian winter. The materials, no matter whether we are talking about stone, blood, flesh, metal, are statuesque, and in the no man’s land of the mute city, we can also feel the metallic taste, and it is up to us to decide whether it is the barrel of a gun or our own blood. And we can join to the characters in the sinister, discomforting city, which remains silent even during the battle, to account for everything we have done in the past, or something we are unable to do in the present, because the great puppet master pulls our strings somewhere else.
I assume that a question came up in most of our readers’ minds: in the end, is Balancing Stones a fantastical novel? The writer of this review naturally has an answer for that, but it is the job of the reader to decide this as he or she turns the pages. I recommend this novel to everyone who enjoys reading war novels. And even to those who feel exhilarated when encountering an intellectual challenge, and Balancing Stones can offer many of these. And to those who enjoy being wrapped up in a well-written prosaic text. But even for the people who enjoy fantastical literature; for it is extremely confusing when the wind lifts the skirt of the statue child as it dances around a crocodile, or as the steel hammer strikes down behind you.
Translated by Ferenc Benkő
A cikk magyarul itt olvasható.
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