Eszter T. Molnar: “Language is an important part of personality”

ActuaLitté: Teréz, or the memory of the body, is your first novel translated into French. It gives you the opportunity to come and present it at the Paris Book Festival.

Eszter T. Molnar: Yes, I came to present it at the Liszt Institute – the Hungarian Cultural Center. This is my seventh book. I also wrote four texts for children. I was noticed in France thanks to a magazine which kindly reviewed my novel, and this, before this French translation. Later, a funding grant for a translation was offered, which was won by Sophie Aude. She then offered to translate Terez for the French public. Now she is working on a translation by Péter Nádas.

Your novel, in a few pages, manages to deal with subjects as broad as memory, body and language, and this by marrying the three. What path led to these themes?

Eszter T. Molnar: My character, Teréz, after a sexual abuse suffered during childhood, decides to work on his reconstruction by going abroad. I myself lived for eleven years in Germany, in Freiburg, and this experience allowed me to reflect on what it means to be a foreigner. One of the dimensions that justifies this feeling of otherness is this passage from one’s mother tongue to another language. It is from this knowledge that I chose to incorporate German and English into the body of the text, in addition to Hungarian. These parts written in foreign languages ​​were then translated into Hungarian by me.

How does this language game imprint itself in the text?

Eszter T. Molnar: In this device, one or two languages ​​are displayed side by side in columns, like a dictionary or the Bible, one might say. Incorporated into the work, it offers a sensitive and linguistic experience that testifies to this impossibility of being able to express oneself as an alien. And even more, to state, through the text, to what extent language expresses thought and influences everyone’s identity.

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I also find this formal choice particularly pretty in the French translation, almost plastically. But readers don’t worry, all the text is in French, or translated into French!

So for you, language is part of the personality?

Eszter T. Molnar: I think it’s noticeable in the text. I am a different person if I think in Hungarian, in English or in German. It’s also very funny: when I think in English, I’m going to experience myself funnier than in Hungarian, or in German, which is more analytical. The language we use transforms or shapes part of our being, it seems to me. To sum up, by changing the idiom, I changed not only the mode of expression, but also partially my personality.

Did you build this novel in the light of this reflection on language, or did it appear during the writing?

Eszter T. Molnar: It finally came quite naturally. Moving to Germany, I gradually started to think in German as I mastered the language. I then wrote poetry in the language of Goethe, then the small texts integrated into the novel. But I hadn’t expected it to end this way. I finally had a somewhat experimental approach.

Furthermore, I also perceived my move to Freiburg as a move within the European Union. It’s a learning that we should all share, because we all come from somewhere and we all know people who come from somewhere else. True travel is food for the mind.

When we all have acquired this knowledge of uprooting, we will be able to understand each other better. I also spent a year in Austria and that was another form of enrichment.

Wasn’t it too difficult to adapt each time?

Eszter T. Molnar: I am quite adaptable. Afterwards, you have to want it for it to work. Of course, you have to be able to do your part.

The one who initiated Eszter T. Molnar’s invitation to the Paris Book Festival, Zoltán Jeney, also agreed to give us a quick overview of Hungarian literature in France:

Can you give us an inventory of Hungarian literature and its French translations?

Zoltan Jeney: We are relatively well served when it comes to translations from Hungarian into French. In addition to the translation of the classics, such as Sandor Marai, we can cite László Krasznahorkai, published by Gallimard. His Booker Prize, received in 2015, has helped a lot with his current success, it seems to me. Then we have some contemporary authors who are also relatively well published, like György Dragomán and his white king (Trad. Joëlle Dufeuilly) which enjoyed relatively great success in France.

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Also Krisztina Toth, also published by Gallimard, Attila Bartis or Benedek Totth, who are authors who also enjoy a certain recognition. For Totth, we can cite his latest novel, like dead rats (trans. Natalia Zaremba-Huzsvai, Charles Zaremba), and, for Bartis, her text The end (Trad. Natalia Zaremba-Huzsvai, Charles Zaremba), published in France in February 2022. The latter two were published by Actes Sud. Without forgetting of course Eszter T. Molnar.

Hungarian authors are distributed among several French publishers, without a house specializing in this literature. Is this a good thing in your opinion?

Zoltan Jeney: It’s better to be present at different publishing houses who choose according to their taste. First, it makes it possible to reach as many people as possible and not just a niche of enthusiasts. Then, the choice of a publishing house neutral with respect to nationalities guarantees that the selections will be made according to the quality of the texts, and not the nationality of the author.

Credits: ActuaLitté (CC BY SA 2.0)

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Eszter T. Molnar: “Language is an important part of personality”