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ISBN 978-0-9573266-2-0
First published March 2014; 58 pp
paperback; 198 x 129 mm

£7.99
click here to read a pdf excerpt.
Agota Kristof, born in Csikvánd, Hungary, in 1935, became an exile in French-speaking Switzerland in 1956. Working in a factory, she slowly learned the language of her adopted country. Her first novel, Le Grand Cahier (1986; The Notebook), gained international recognition and was translated into more than thirty languages. She wrote plays as well as further ­novels. She died in 2011.

Nina Bogin, born in New York in 1952, has lived in France since 1976. She has published three acclaimed collections of poetry, most recently The Lost Hare (Anvil, 2012).

Gabriel Josipovici was born in Nice in 1940 and lived in Egypt from 1945 to 1956, when he came to Britain. He taught at the University of Sussex from 1963 to 1996. His work includes fiction, drama and criticism; his novel Only Joking was published by CBe in 2010.



 
 
Agota Kristof  The Illiterate
translated from the French by Nina Bogin
introduction by Gabriel Josipovici


 
Reissued in 2016 with new cover

Narrated in a series of brief vignettes and translated into English for the first time, The Illiterate is Agota Kristof’s memoir of her childhood, her escape from Hungary in 1956 with her husband and small child, her early years working in factories in Switzerland, and the writing of her first novel, The Notebook.

From the introduction by Gabriel Josipovici:
‘This story of exile and loss, of how, for the refugee, the country in which she eventually settles, however kind and well-meaning its inhabitants, will always be a poor and inadequate substitute for the country of one’s birth, its language always an alien thing, however proficient she becomes in it – this is the story of so many people today that it is perhaps the story of our time, and Agota Kristof should perhaps be seen as our transnational bard.’

The Illiterate is the story of a girl who lived for the written word –  “I read. It is like a disease,” she begins – and of what happened to her when her language was taken away ... This is a book of relevance today because we live in a world of migration, and Kristof shows it to us from within. It is one of the last books she wrote, slim and clean, but containing the accumulations of a lifetime.’
     – John Self, Independent on Sunday (full review here)

‘The security and relative material comfort of her new life cannot make up for the glaring absences inherent in the refugee experience. Her descriptions – of those with whom she escaped and whose sense of isolation eventually leads them back to Hungary even at the cost of their lives, as well as those whose sense of despair brings them to suicide – offers an uncomfortable insight into the extreme vulnerability of those obliged to seek asylum abroad. Fortunately this experience did not prevent Kristof from creating works of uncompromising intensity, which forbid the reader to overlook the terrible price her liberty to do so paid.’
     – Eimear McBride, Times Literary Supplement


‘Little is known about Kristóf’s life, but most of what we do know is contained in her short memoir The Illiterate, which came out in 2004 and is now available to us in this excellent translation by Nina Bogin. (Bogin informs us that later in life, despite the lack of detail in these 11 short chapters, Kristóf regretted publishing the book.) Growing up in a remote village, the precocious Kristóf, whose father was the local schoolteacher, contracted early on what she calls the “reading disease”. In 1949, when she was 14, the first major disruption to her life came when her father was imprisoned by the communist authorities (we don’t learn what for) and she was separated from her beloved brother and sent to an orphanage-like girls’ boarding school in the city. It was here that, through necessity and loneliness, she began to write and act.

   Without saying goodbye to her family, the 21-year-old Kristóf escaped Hungary in the aftermath of the 1956 uprising, crossing the border by night into Austria before finding a home in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. While working in a clock factory and navigating the precarious existence of a refugee, she painstakingly began to “conquer” and then write seriously in an “enemy language … killing my mother tongue”. Eventually Kristóf had plays performed in French in a local bistro but her breakthrough came with the publication of The Notebook, which brought her prizes and well-merited international recognition.’
     – James Tennant, New Statesman


The Notebook – George Szirtes: ‘A stunning, brutal and beautifully written (and translated) book’ – and 2 Novels: The Proof, The Third Lie – are also available from CBe.