Magda Szabó

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Magda Szabó
Magda Szabó in 2005
Magda Szabó in 2005
Born(1917-10-05)5 October 1917
Debrecen, Austria-Hungary
Died19 November 2007(2007-11-19) (aged 90)
Kerepes, Hungary
Years active1947–1987

Magda Szabó (October 5, 1917 – November 19, 2007) was a Hungarian novelist. Doctor of philology, she also wrote dramas, essays, studies, memoirs, poetry and children's literature. She is a founding member of the Digital Literary Academy. She is the most translated Hungarian author, with publications in 42 countries and over 30 languages.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Magda Szabó was born in Debrecen, Austria-Hungary in 1917.[3]

In 1940, she graduated from the University of Debrecen as a teacher of Latin and of Hungarian.[3] She began teaching in the same year at the Protestant Girls Boarding School in Debrecen and Hódmezővásárhely.[3] From 1945 to 1949, she worked in the Ministry of Religion and Education.[3]

She married the writer and translator Tibor Szobotka (1913–1982) in 1947.[4]

Writing career[edit]

Szabó began her writing career as a poet and published her first book of poetry, Bárány ("Lamb"), in 1947, which was followed by Vissza az emberig ("Back to the Human") in 1949.[5] In 1949 she was awarded the Baumgarten Prize, which was immediately withdrawn when Szabó was labeled an enemy to the Communist Party.[6] She was dismissed from the Ministry in the same year.[6] The Stalinist era from 1949 to 1956 censored any literature, such as Szabó's work, that did not conform to socialist realism.[7] Since her husband was also censored by the communist regime, she was forced to teach in a Calvinist girls' school until 1959.[7][1][8]

She wrote her first novel, Freskó ("Fresco") during these years, which was published in 1958.[5] The novel tells the story of a puritan family coming together for a funeral, while examining questions of hypocrisy and reflecting on Hungarian history.[2] In the same year, she published another book of poetry titled Bárány Boldizsár ("Lawrence the Lamb") and a novel written for a younger female audience titled Mondják meg Zsófikának ("Tell Young Sophie").[2] Az őz ("The Fawn") was published in 1959, a novel centered around an actress and her struggle to overcome a difficult, impoverished childhood.[1] In this novel, Szabó effectively portrays the psychological, internal world of the modern woman.[1] In 1961 and 1962, Szabó published two more novels for young women, Álarcosbál ("Masked Ball") and Születésnap ("Birthday") respectively.[5][1] Pilátus ("Iza's Ballad"), the story of a female doctor and her relationship with her mother, was published in 1963.[9] Tündér Lala ("Lara the Fairy"), her 1965 novel, is one of the most popular novels for children written in Hungarian.[5][2] In 1969, she published Katalin utca ("Katalin Street"), a realistic depiction of post-World War II life.[1] Her most widely read novel Abigél ("Abigail", 1970) is an adventure story about a young girl living in eastern Hungary during World War II.[2] The novel's success resulted in a TV series, produced in 1978;[1] the novel was also adapted into a musical that premiered in March 2008. In 1971, Szabó began a series of autobiographical works, which depict her family history. The first of this series is the short novel, Ókút ("The Ancient Well"), followed by Régimódi történet ("Old-Fashioned Story").[1][2] In 2002, Szabó continued this autobiographical series with Für Elise, a recollection of the author's life from 1917 to 1935.[1] Today, this is one of her most popular works in Hungarian.[1]

In 1975, Szabó published a collection of plays titled Az órák és a farkasok ("The Wolf Hours").[2] She published two more dramas in 1984, Erőnk szerint ("According to Our Strength") and Béla Király ("King Béla").[2]

Her novel Az ajtó (The Door) was published in 1987 and would become one of her most famous works worldwide.[1] The novel revolves around the relationship between two women, one a prominent Hungarian writer much like Szabó herself, and the other her cryptic housekeeper.[1] Claire Messud writes in the New York Times that reading The Door, has completely changed her outlook on life while Cynthia Zarin, contributor to The New Yorker, calls it "a bone-shaking book."[6] The Door was translated into English in 1995 by Stefan Draughon and again in 2005 by Len Rix.[10]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Mondják meg Zsófikának (1958). Tell Sally..., translated by Ursula McLean (Corvina Press, 1963).
  • Az őz (1959). The Fawn, translated by Kathleen Szasz (Knopf, 1963).
  • Disznótor (1960). Night of the Pig-Killing, translated by Kathleen Szasz (Knopf, 1966).[11]
  • Pilátus (1963). Iza's Ballad, translated by George Szirtes (Harvill Secker, 2014; New York Review Books, 2016).
  • Katalin utca (1969). Katalin Street, first translated by Agnes Farkas Smith (Kids 4 Kids, 2005), then Len Rix (New York Review Books, 2017).
  • Abigél (1970). Abigail, translated by Len Rix (New York Review Books, 2020).[12]
  • Az ajtó (1987). The Door, first translated by Stefan Draughon (East European Monographs, 1995), then Len Rix (Harvill Press, 2005; New York Review Books, 2015).[10]

Awards and prizes[edit]


On October 5, 2017, Google celebrated her 100th birthday with a Google Doodle.[21]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Magda Szabó". Publishing Hungary. 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Magda Szabó: Acclaimed author of 'The Door'". The Independent.
  3. ^ a b c d "Magda Szabó". Frankfurt '99 Non-Profit Organization.
  4. ^ Gömöri, George (2007-11-28). "Obituary: Magda Szabó". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-04-18.
  5. ^ a b c d "Szabó Magda". Kortárs Irodalmi Adattár. Archived from the original on 2005-08-26.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Zarin, Cynthia (April 29, 2016). "The Hungarian Despair of Magda Szabó's "The Door"". The New Yorker.
  7. ^ a b Czigány, Lóránt (1986). "A History of Hungarian Literature". Library of Hungarian Studies.
  8. ^ "A Powerful and Haunting Story of Two Very Different Women: Magda Szabó's "The Door"". On Art and Aesthetics. 2017-07-04. Retrieved 2020-06-09.
  9. ^ Groff, Lauren (November 11, 2016). "In Magda Szabo's Novel, A Widow is Uprooted From What She Loves". The New York Times.
  10. ^ a b Messud, Claire (February 6, 2015). "'The Door,' by Magda Szabo". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Szabó, Magda (1966). Night of the pig-killing. New York: Knopf. OCLC 1450339.
  12. ^ Szabó, Magda (2020). Abigail. Translated by Len Rix. ISBN 978-1-68137-403-1.
  13. ^ "Szabó Magda - Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum".
  14. ^ "Magda Szabó's The Door is one of The New York Times Book Review '10 Best Books of 2015'". December 4, 2015. Archived from the original on December 10, 2015. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  15. ^ John Maher (February 21, 2018). "Long Soldier, Zhang, Le Guin Win At 2018 PEN Literary Awards". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
  16. ^ "The 2018 PEN America Literary Awards Winners". PEN America. February 20, 2018. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
  17. ^ Porter Anderson (January 31, 2018). "Industry Notes: PEN America's Finalists". Publishing Perspectives. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
  18. ^ "2019 Warwick Prize for Women in Translation shortlist announced". University of Warwick. October 28, 2019. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  19. ^ "Long List Announced for the 2020 Wingate Prize". The Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation. December 20, 2019. Archived from the original on December 20, 2019. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  20. ^ "2020 Warwick Prize for Women in Translation shortlist announced". University of Warwick. November 11, 2020. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  21. ^ "Magda Szabó's 100th Birthday". Google. 5 October 2017.

External links[edit]