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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Celestial Harmonies (2004) by Peter Esterhazy


Book Review
Celestial Harmonies (2004)
 by Peter Esterhazy

   This 850 page monster by the scion of one Hungary's most famous aristocratic families is one of those English translations which works better in the UK, where the Esterhazy family name holds some actual clout among the cultural elite, than the US, where most people think Hungary is what happens when you don't eat, and the pedigrees of ancient European royalty function best as punch lines. 

  To be sure, the Esterhazy family got a raw deal of it when the Communists took over Hungary, but they handled it with aplomb, at least as depicted in this book.  In true European fashion, Celestial Harmonies is divided into two 400 page parts.  The first part, written as numbered paragraphs, are various observations about different members of the Esterhazy family line, stretching back in time to the origins of the family.  He includes entire portions of other books- actual entire pages of The Dead Father by Donald Barthelme- which he acknowledges both before and after the main text.

  The second half of Celestial Harmonies is a more or less conventional work of biographical fiction about the experience of Esterhazy's father under Communism.  Compared to similar stores about people living through Russian, Chinese and Cambodian versions of this same transition, the Esterhazy's had an easy time of it and to his credit, Esterhazy doesn't try overmuch to enlist the sympathy of the reader for his poor dad. 

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