The Paul Street Boys
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (July 2010)|
|The Paul Street Boys|
|Original title||A Pál utcai fiúk|
The novel is about schoolboys in the rapidly developing Budapest at the turn of the 20th century, who defend their playground, the "grund", from the "redshirts", a team of other boys who want to occupy it. The boys regard the "grund" as their "Fatherland", constitute themselves its "National Army" and constantly use all the terminology of nationalism as common at the time in Hungary as elsewhere in Europe.
The book can thus be seen as a biting satire of European nationalism and a premonition of the First World War which broke out a few years after its publication. The message comes through, although the plot does not involve politics and is an easy reading for children.
The 1934 film version, retitled No Greater Glory, removes much of the political symbolism and simply presents the plot as a sentimental, touching story of childlike dedication and self-sacrifice.
Literary significance and criticism
The book has earned the status of the most famous Hungarian novel in the world. It has been translated into many languages and in several countries is a mandatory or recommended reading in schools. Ernő Nemecsek is now ranked in those schools among the eternal heroes of youth literature, such as Oliver Twist or Tom Sawyer.
Erich Kästner took up the theme of two groups of boys conducting a "war" and using all the terminology of militarism and nationalism in "The Flying Classroom", published just before the National Socialist German Workers' Party won elections in Germany. Kästner was, however, less harsh with the character resembling Nemecsek, who in Kästner's version suffers no more than a broken leg.
In Israel the book, in Hebrew translation under the title Mahanaim (Two Camps), was highly popular in the 1940s and 1950s, and recently a new translation was published. The Israeli left-wing columnist Haim Bar'am, of the Kol Ha'ir weekly in Jerusalem, wrote: "The highest praise which I can bestow on a pure-hearted, idealistic person is to compare him or her to Nemecsek. I don't often do that, only when I feel that somebody truly deserves the ultimate compliment."
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
- A Pál utcai fiúk a silent film by Hungarian director Béla Balogh in 1919
- No Greater Glory a 1934 American film by U.S. director Frank Borzage, released by Columbia Pictures
- I ragazzi della via Paal, Italian film directed by Alberto Mondadori and Mario Monicelli in 1935
- The Boys of Paul Street a film by the Hungarian director Zoltán Fábri in 1969
- I ragazzi della via Pál, an Italian TV film directed by Maurizio Zaccaro, 2003