The Photographer at Sixteen
The Death and Life of a Fighter
By George Szirtes
A poet's memoir of his mother that flows backwards through time, and excavates a shard of European history - a deeply honest, tender and yet unsentimental autobiographical journey.
"A truly remarkable book about identity, image and memory. It is fiercely compelling" EDMUND DE WAAL, author of The Hare with the Amber Eyes
A poet's memoir of his mother that flows backwards through time, and through a tumultuous period of European history - a tender and yet unsparing autobiographical journey.
In July 1975, George Szirtes' mother, Magda, died in an ambulance, on her way to hospital after attempting to take her own life. She was fifty-one years old. This memoir is an attempt to make sense of what came before, to re-construct who Magda Szirtes really was. The Photographer at Sixteen moves from her death, spooling backwards through her years as a mother, through sickness and exile in England, the family's flight from Hungary in 1956, her time in two concentration camps, her girlhood as an ambitious photographer and her vanished family in Transylvania.
The woman who emerges, fleetingly, fragmentarily - with her absolutism, her contradictions, her beauty - is utterly captivating. What were the terrors and obsessions that drove her? The Photographer at Sixteen reveals a life that is at Magda Szirtes from the depths of the end to the comparable safety of the photographer's studio where she first appears as a small child. It is a book born of curiosity, guilt and love.
GEORGE SZIRTES' many books of poetry have won prizes including the T. S. Eliot Prize (2004), for which he was again shortlisted for Bad Machine (2013). His translation of Satantango by László Krasznahorkai (whom he interviewed for The White Review) was awarded the Best Translated Book Award in the US. He is also the translator of Sandor Marai and Magda Szabo. The Photographer at Sixteen is his first venture into prose writing of his own.
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- Publication date:
07 Feb 2019
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In this quest to understand the enigma of his mother 's life and death, George Szirtes travels back from personal memory to deeper history, as he reconstructs his family's tragedy-darkened past . . . An original, probingly thoughtful memoir whose restraint only increases its poignancy and impact — Eva Hoffman, author of LOST IN TRANSLATION: A LIFE IN A NEW LANGUAGE
In this extraordinary, hybrid book - part memoir, part history, part poetic journey - Szirtes re-makes the life of his mother, tracing her childhood in Europe's darkest period to her life in Britain after the Hungarian uprising. He brilliantly captures how sometimes it's those closest to us who remain the most mysterious. — Patrick McGuinness, author of OTHER PEOPLE'S COUNTRIES: A JOURNEY INTO MEMORY
A truly remarkable book about identity, image and memory. It is fiercely compelling. — Edmund de Waal, author of THE HARE WITH THE AMBER EYES
Magda Szirtes is intense, untameable, tantalising and compelling. George Szirtes is tender and astute in trying to understand her, percipient in analysing the enduring fragments of her life -- letters, tape-recordings, photographs, memories -- yet ever-aware of how little it is possible to know. The result is engrossing and profoundly moving. — Keiron Pim, author of JUMPIN' JACK FLASH