Magda Szabó (October 5, 1917 – November 19, 2007) was a Hungarian novelist. She also wrote dramas, essays, studies, memoirs, and poetry. She is the most translated Hungarian author, with publications in 42 countries and over 30 languages.
In 1940, she graduated from the University of Debrecen as a teacher of Latin and of Hungarian. She began teaching in the same year at the Protestant Girl's Boarding School in Debrecen and Hódmezővásárhely. From 1945 to 1949, she worked in the Ministry of Religion and Education.
She married the writer and translator Tibor Szobotka (1913-1982) in 1947.
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. In 1949 she was awarded the Baumgarten Prize, which was immediately withdrawn when Szabó was labeled an enemy to the Communist Party. She was dismissed from the Ministry in the same year. The Stalinist era from 1949 to 1956 censured any literature, such as Szabó's work, that did not conform to socialist realism. Since her husband was also censured by the communist regime, she was forced to teach in a Calvinist girls' school until 1959.
She wrote her first novel, Freskó ("Fresco") during these years, which was published in 1958. The novel tells the story of a puritan family coming together for a funeral, while examining questions of hypocrisy and reflecting on Hungarian history. 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"). Az őz ("The Fawn") was published in 1959, a novel centered around an actress and her struggle to overcome a difficult, impoverished childhood. In this novel, Szabó effectively portrays the psychological, internal world of the modern woman. In 1961 and 1962, Szabó published two more novels for young women, Álarcosbál ("Masked Ball") and Születésnap ("Birthday") respectively. Pilátus ("Iza's Ballad"), the story of a female doctor and her relationship with her mother, was published in 1963. Tündér Lala ("Lara the Fairy"), her 1965 novel, is one of the most popular novels for children written in Hungarian. In 1969, she published Katalin utca ("Katalin Street"), a realistic depiction of post-World War II life. Her most widely read novel Abigél ("Abigail", 1970) is an adventure story about a young girl living in eastern Hungary during World War II. The novel's success resulted in a TV series, produced in 1978; 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"). In 2002, Szabó continued this autobiographical series with Für Elise, a recollection of the author's life from 1917 to 1935. Today, this is one of her most popular works in Hungarian.
In 1975, Szabó published a collection of plays titled Az órák és a farkasok ("The Wolf Hours"). She published two more dramas in 1984, Erőnk szerint ("According to Our Strength") and Béla Király ("King Béla").
Her novel Az ajtó ("The Door") was published in 1987 and would become one of her most famous works worldwide. The novel revolves around the relationship between two women, one a prominent Hungarian writer much like Szabó herself, and the other her cryptic housekeeper. 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." "The Door" was translated into English in 1995 by Stefan Draughon and again in 2005 by Len Rix.
Awards and Prizes
- 1949: awarded the Baumgarten Prize, although it was withdrawn the same day.
- 1959, 1972: awarded the József Attila, a top Hungarian literary prize.
- 1978: awarded the Kossuth Prize.
- 1985-1990: elected to serve on the European Academy of Sciences.
- 2003: a French translation of "The Door" by Chantal Philippe is awarded the Prix Femina étranger, a French literary award, for the best foreign novel
- Abigél was chosen as the sixth most popular novel in the Hungarian version of Big Read. Three more of her novels appeared in the top 100: Für Elise, An Old-Fashioned Story and The Door.
- 2006: Len Rix's English translation of "The Door" awarded the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize.
- 2006: Len Rix's English translation of "The Door" shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2006.
- 2007: French translation of Katalin Street awarded the 2007 Prix Cévannes.
Works in English
- The Fawn, translated by Kathleen Szasz, 1963
- The Door, translated by Stefan Draughon, 1995
- The Door, translated by Len Rix, 2005
- Katalin Street, translated by Agnes Farkas Smith, 2008
- Iza's Ballad, translated by George Szirtes, 2015
- Katalin Street, translated by Len Rix, 2017
- Tell Sally, translated by Ursula McLean, 1963
- "Magda Szabó". Publishing Hungary. 2016.
- "Magda Szabó: Acclaimed author of 'The Door'". The Independent.
- "Magda Szabó". Frankfurt '99 Non-Profit Organization.
- "Szabó Magda". Kortárs Irodalmi Adattár.
- Zarin, Cynthia (April 29, 2016). "The Hungarian Despair of Magda Szabó's "The Door"". The New Yorker.
- Czigány, Lóránt (1986). "A History of Hungarian Literature". Library of Hungarian Studies.
- Groff, Lauren (November 11, 2016). "In Magda Szabo's Novel, A Widow is Uprooted From What She Loves". The New York Times.
- Messud, Claire (February 6, 2015). "'The Door,' by Magda Szabo". The New York Times.
- "Szabó Magda - Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum". pim.hu.
- Biography, quotes and publications
- Magda Szabo in the History of Hungarian Literature
- Labours of love, review of "The Door" by The Guardian, October 29, 2005
- Biography, including a list of her translated works