Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Classic Sci-Fi: Voyage to Kazohinia by Sandor Szathmari
Translator: Inez Kemenes
Date: 1941 (July 2012)
Source: WLT giveaway shelf
Read: because I love classic dystopian novels
Reading time: four days
From GoodReads: Voyage to Kazohinia is a tour de force of twentieth-century literature--and it is here published in English for the first time outside of Hungary. Sándor Szathmári's comical novel chronicles the travels of a modern Gulliver on the eve of World War II. A shipwrecked English ship's surgeon finds himself on an unknown island whose inhabitants, the Hins, live a technologically advanced existence without emotions, desires, arts, money, or politics. Soon unhappy amid this bleak perfection, Gulliver asks to be admitted to the closed settlement of the Behins, beings with souls and atavistic human traits. He has seen nothing yet. A massively entertaining mix of satire and science fiction, Voyage to Kazohinia has seen half a dozen editions in Hungary in the seventy years since its original publication and remains the country's most popular cult classic.
My review: I'm still marveling that this novel was off my radar until I happened across a free copy of the book. Classic dystopian literature is one of "my things," and the ones I find most interesting are those from non-English-speaking countries. Still, I was a little wary about reading this, since lately I've been in a slump with older, especially translated, novels. I also highly did not enjoy Gulliver's Travels this past summer (sadface after the genius of Swift's "A Modest Proposal"), and Voyage to Kazohinia is written as Gulliver's 20th-century travels. Well...I can't believe Kazohinia wasn't published in English before, because it really does rival other classics like 1984 and Anthem in terms of its dystopian awesomeness.
Voyage to Kazohinia is divided into two parts. In the first, Gulliver arrives among the Hins. Their world could be considered utopian, but they lack a lot of the things that make us humans happy (and also angsty and unstable). Pointed jab at communism here? Maybe. It's an ideal world in many ways (so what communism just wants to be), but, like Gulliver, most of us wouldn't actually want to live there. Gulliver's navigation of this strange people is hilarious all the way through, so, except for some parts that include way too much explanatory dialogue, it's highly enjoyable.
Gulliver eventually decides to move in with the Behins, otherwise known as the "insane" Hins. Here the story ceases to be hilarious and is really rather sad. Gulliver fails to see what is obvious to the reader, that the beliefs and idiosyncrasies of the Behins mirror those of our own society. Meanwhile, the Behins appear so illogical that I generally felt like (metaphorically) banging my head against the wall. But, there were still some really funny parts, like when feeding women food becomes symbolic of prostitution. Don't ask, just go read the book.