"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

April 24, 2012

"In Praise of Older Women" by Stephen Vizinczey (book review)

In Praise of Older Women was written in lucid English by Hungarian born author Stephen Vizinczey (1933). Published in 1965, it has since come to be regarded as a small classic of modern literature. It is a sort of "Vita Sexualis" (to borrow the title of a novel by Japanese author Mori Ogai), a "Bildungsroman" with the emphasis on the sexual development of the protagonist. It is subtitled "The Amorous Recollections of András Vajda." In fact, the background details of the narrator’s childhood in Hungary match Vizinczey’s own. The brutality the author experienced at a young age (his father was murdered by a Nazi sympathizer), made him determined that violence and hatred are to be avoided at all cost.

Happily the narrator doesn't take himself too seriously, so his story is full of humor. As the book describes life in Budapest under both the Germans and the Soviets, it is also much more than only an erotic novel. Neither is the novel in any way "explicit:" it is a tender and beautiful book about relationships and the author is never crude. We could very well call it a study of the psychology of love.

As a young man, András has a strong preference for mature women in their thirties or forties (therefore the title), rather than giggling girls his own age. The book takes us from Hungary to exile in Italy and Canada, but the most interesting part comes in the beginning. Very funny is the section where as a boy who has fled from Hungary to Austria the narrator serves as interpreter on an American base - he mostly has to help the soldiers get along with the local women. And the best relationship in the book is the first one, in which a married woman living upstairs in his apartment building patiently introduces the young András into the ways of love.