The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed Szilárd Borbély (Hungary): 2013; translated by Ottilie Mulzet, Harper Perennial, 2016.


There is plenty of cruelty and loneliness in this Hungarian novel, which reads more like a memoir than a novel. There is the cruelty of the two world wars, the cruelty of men towards women and children, the cruelty of spouses, the cruelty of children, and the cruelty towards animals. Overriding all of this is the geographical and historical cruelty in the village at the centre of this story. All this cruelty unfolds through the narrative of the central child narrator growing up in this Hungarian village on the border of Romania. He is a lonely character and notices the loneliness of everybody around him, which he comes to understand through the loneliness of prime numbers, a wonderful addition to the storytelling.

Central to the story is also the brutal poverty the child's family and the village as a whole lives in. Borbély depicts excruciating scenes of this poverty and the emotional and psychological impact it has on characters throughout the history that unfolds. The Dispossessed is a wonderful, albeit, sad novel which I highly recommend.