2017 READING CHALLENGE
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Told by Pe ter Esterha zy, a scion of this populous family, "Celestial Harmonies unfolds in two parts, revealing two versions of the Esterha zy story. Book One is a compilation of short passages about the Esterha zy men, sons reflecting on their fathers, from the earliest days of the Hapsburg Empire to its demise in the early twentieth century and beyond. At one point, the father is seen fighting the Turks and writing psalms, at another he is described as herding geese and feathering his already well-feathered nest. In the nineteenth century, he is caught cavorting with his mistress while looking after matters of state; in the 1940s and 1950s, he is seen helping to organize a number of conspiracies, then reporting them (and himself) to the secret police. Conversely, he is also seen apprehended and tortured by the authorities. The father is a monster and he is an angel, but, above all, he is a man in search of his God.
Book Two chronicles the final chapter in the life of the Esterha zy family, from the short Communist take over of 1919 to World War Two and its aftermath, when Hungary fell to Soviet rule and the Esterha zys succumbed to dispossession, resettlement, and impoverishment. Here, Pe ter Esterha zy reveals the story of hisimmediate family, especially his father, Ma tya s Esterha zy, who was born into great wealth and privilege in 1919. He worked as a field hand and parquet floor layer under the hard-line Communists, then, later on, as a translator making a meager living. It is a biography of a man who, despite the brutal tides of history, never relinquished the humanist values that were his birthright, and that were as inseparable from him as his illustrious name and heritage.
On the first page of "Celestial Harmonies, the father is seen as a baroque grand seigneur; on the last, he is seated by his typewriter, bereft of everything except for the one word, "homeland." The individual stories of these "fathers" -- separated by centuries -- are as complex as the history of Hungary itself. Dazzling in scope and profound in implication, "Celestial Harmonies is fiction at its richest and most awe-inspiring.
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