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by George Konrád

A guest in my own country

February 1945. We are sitting on a bench in a motionless cattle car. I can't pull myself away from the open door and the wind whipping off the snowy plains. I didn't want to be a constant guest in Budapest; I wanted to go home — a weeklong trip — to Berettyóújfalu, the town our parents had been abducted from, the town we had managed to leave a day before the deportations. Had we stayed one more day we would have ended up in Auschwitz. My sister, who was 14, might have survived, but I was 11, and Dr. Mengele sent all my classmates, every last one, to the gas chambers.

Of our parents we knew nothing. I had given up on the idea of going from the staircase to the vestibule to the light-blue living room and finding everything as it had been. I had a feeling I would find nothing there at all. But if I closed my eyes, I could go through the old motions:  walk downstairs, step through the iron gate, painted yellow, and see my father next to the tile oven, rubbing his hands, smiling, chatting, turning his blue eyes to everyone with a trusting but impish gaze, as if to ask, "We understand each other, don't we?" In a postprandial mood he would have gone onto the balcony and stretched out on his deck chair, lighting up a long Memphis cigarette in its gold mouthpiece, looking over the papers, then nodding off.

Excerpted from A Guest in My Own Country by George Konrád, translated from the Hungarian by Jim Tucker. Copyright © 2002 by György Konrád, used courtesy Other Press.

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Articles in this Issue

The Things We Make, by Mary Phillips-Sandy
The Sting and the Honey, by Edmund Eugene Mullins
Richard and Anna Wagner, by Douwe Draaisma
323 Prospect Place, by Josh Jackson
Letting Go: Highschool, by Jeff Steinbrink
Geography, by George Konrád
Literature, by Todd Zuniga
Risk Management, by Peter Joseph
March 2007


George Konrád, a former president of International PEN and the Academy of Arts in Berlin, is the author of The Case Worker and The Invisible Voice, among many other widely translated books. He lives in Budapest.

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