Capsule Recommendation: Satantango and The Last Wolf (a.k.a. Az utolsó farkas) by László Krasznahorkai

Laszlo Krasznahorkai Satantango (1985):

Satantango Krasznahorkai   Satantango Krasznahorkai #2

As I’m certain it was for many others — not least because, the conventional lagtime in publishing a comprehensive English-language translation of a work of formidable world literature notwithstanding, this constitutes his début novel — this is the first of Krasznahorkai‘s fiction I’ve devoured. In that spirit, I’m compelled to verify that (as with all those who’ve heretofore asserted their uninhibited appreciation for Krasznahorkai’s fiction) Satantango is an unqualified masterpiece of narrative art.

It is a big, black subterranean artefact of eschatology, human ruination and synchresis, some visionary text charting the systematic spiritual and physical entropy of the few corruptible members of some neo-feudal Hungarian agricultural co-op before the nationwide dissolution of communism in 1985. But like any apocalyptical allegory, this one’s also a conduit into the befoulment of man when confronted by the inexplicable figure of a prophet come to collude and succour those who seek easy resolution or look to spurious acts of sublimation to reconcile themselves to their personal and professional failures.

For most of my reading, it reminded me of a novel-length contemporary explication of Chekhov’s short-story, “Peasants”, but the style recurrently evoked the labyrinthine and incantatory prosody of Knut Hamsun, Melville, Bulgakov and Gogol — but there’s something, too, of Flannery O’Connor’s gothic evocations and Bolaño’s oeniric mythmaking and even Mervyn Peake’s high weirdness, so that it’s always eminently clear that Satantango is its own thing, a witchy dirge to the death of community, a book about the dystopic consequences that arise from money reasserting its Talmudic status of influence over our lives.

Perhaps the best thing about Krasznahorkai that is so rarely articulated is that his writing is always drolly hilarious. This is a book where the Messianic manifestation materialises before you expressing little but shopworn promises, but we’re all too preoccupied in pissing ourselves, skulking on our stomachs and writhing in our neighbours’ filth to notice.

The Last Wolf (a.k.a. Az utolsó farkas; 2009):

The Last Wolf Krasznahorkai #1   The Last Wolf Krazsnahorkai #2

László Krasznahorkai‘s The Last Wolf (or Az utolsó farkas as it was originally entitled in his native Hungarian, and El último lobo in its thematically-appropriate Spanish-language rendering) is one of the greatest works of short fiction I have ever encountered, a masterwork freighted with the interrogative acuity of characterisation and force of interiority the likes of Chekhov’s novellas, the delight in circuitous logic and darkest absurdity of Gogol, the soaring surreality and terminal undercurrent of latent dread unearthed in the best of Bolaño, the awe-elevating suckerpunch of humanism delivered by the cinema of Kurosawa, the songful wrath and sustained stylistic ingenuity of Knut Hamsun or Herman Melville.

It’s just exemplary literature without compromise or compact. It’s also a single continuous & unimpeded sentence which extends to 28 pages in length, and which will leave you reeling over the majesty available to human conjuring in the art of story-making, and it will renew your faith in the soul-satiating substance of the Word.

It blooms in me now like a wound in my chest. Y’all would do yourself an intimate justice if you spent some time reading this, and for no other reason than this: you’ll be poorer for it if you don’t.

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