Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Classic Sci-Fi: Voyage to Kazohinia by Sandor Szathmari

Publisher: New Europe Books
Translator: Inez Kemenes
Date: 1941 (July 2012)
Format: paperback
Source: WLT giveaway shelf
Read: because I love classic dystopian novels
Pages: 350
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.


  1. I hadn't heard of this either but sounds like one to keep an eye out for.

    1. Yes! Definitely keep an eye out for it. It's like the best-kept dystopian secret; I wish the publisher had done more publicity for it because I think it would be a popular book if more people just knew about it.

  2. This book was, in fact, published in English decades ago but then never re-published until now -- so it had become impossible to get hold of (except in thoughtfully provided PDF form on a website maintained by some avid fans). A welcome event to have it freely available!

    1. I believe the publisher of this edition mentioned that it had been translated, but not in an edition accessible to most audiences. I didn't realize there was a PDF circulating around! I'm still really surprised that there's not more people who have heard of the novel.

  3. Thanks for your review.
    Excellent book in Hungarian, I hope the English translation is just as good. I encourage everybody to give it a go. I guess you can read samples of it on Amazon and there is a Kindle version, too.