The Phoenix Land: The Memoirs of Count Miklós Bánffy

I am just ten tantalising pages away from the end of Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy (They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided) published by Arcadia books. If I have time I will write a short review very soon.The books are lively, and Bánffy writes so well about love, life, and politics in Transylvania and Hungary in the ten years leading up to the start of World War One, an event which was to tear apart the lives of so many, and which ended the comfortable existence of Hungarian aristocracy in Transylvania.

The story will almost certainly end in tragedy and sadness but that does not deflect from from what Patrick Leigh Fermor describes in his foreward to the Trilogy as a story that is “beyond question, dramatic.”.

One cannot read these books without wanting to know more about the author whom Paddy characterises as “such a deeply civilised man.”

The good news is that very soon we shall be able to do so once more when Arcadia Books re-publish Bánffy’s memoirs “The Phoenix Land”. Due for publication on 23 June 2011 the book is already available for pre-order in bookshops such as Waterstones in the UK. Arcadia first published this in 2004 and you can read a Spectator review here.

Bánffy’s memoirs were once again translated from the Hungarian by his daughter Katalin Bánffy-Jelen and Patrick Thursfield,winners of the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize. Paddy once more offers a foreward. The blurb describes the book as follows:

The thousand year-old year-old kingdom of Hungary, which formed the major part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the last Habsburg fled in 1918, was finally dismembered by the Western Allies by the terms of the peace treaties which followed the First World War. Phoenix-like the Hungarian people survived the horrors of war, the disappointment of the first socialist republic, the disillusion of the brief but terrifying communist rule of Béla Kun, and the bitterness of seeing their beloved country dismembered by the Treaty of Trianon. This is the world that Miklós Bánffy describes in The Phoenix Land.

In preparing this post I contacted Gary Pulsifer at Arcadia for some further background and to ask him to explain more about why Bánffy is one of their authors. He sent me this, including a little vignette about Paddy and his introduction:

Tom, two reasons, one general, one specific.  The first is that Arcadia specialises in translated fiction. The second is the story and this is it:

When I worked at Peter Owen Publishers I was invited to Tangier by the Hon David Herbert, one of Peter’s authors.  He took my partner and me to lunch with his neighbour Patrick Thursfield, who as you know is the Bánffy co-translator.  After lunch Patrick gave me the manuscript of THEY WERE COUNTED, which I read while I was on holiday, and was hooked.  I tried to persuade Peter Owen to publish the trilogy, but no go, so when I started Arcadia in 1996 volume one was one of our early titles.  I became quite close to Patrick, stayed with him in Tangier and saw a lot of him in London and he even once came along to the Frankfurt book fair.  He was overjoyed when THEY WERE DIVIDED won the Weidenfeld Translation Prize (this happened at an awards ceremony in Oxford, when Umberto Eco presented the prize).

A funny aside is that Paddy’s forward was written in longhand and he came into our tiny offices to have Daniela de Groote, now our associate publisher, word-process it.  Daniela, who is Chilean, hadn’t been in the UK all that long – she had been studying for a PhD here prior to working at Arcadia – and she had some difficulties in understanding Paddy’s upper crust accent as he dictated the foreword.  Daniela was also catching a plane to Santiago that afternoon and the whole thing was a little much for her.  So much so that I had to leave the office until they were finished . . .

You may enjoy browsing the current Arcadia 2011 catalogue which is here as a pdf.


Related articles:

Paddy’s Introduction to the Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklos Banffy

If food be the music of love … Bánffy’s lover in Cluj (Kolozsvár)


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