Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai: A book review!

“God is not made manifest in language, you dope. He’s not manifest in anything. He doesn’t exist. God was a mistake. I’ve long understood there is zero difference between me and a bug, or a bug and a river and a river and a voice shouting above it. There’s no sense or meaning in anything. It’s nothing but a network of dependency under enormous fluctuating pressures. It’s only our imaginations, not our senses, that continually confront us with failure and the false belief that we can raise ourselves by our own bootstraps from the miserable pulp of decay. There’s no escaping that, stupid. We’re properly doomed. It’s best not to try either, best not to believe your eyes. It’s a trap, Petrina. And we fall into it every time. We think we’re breaking free but all we’re doing is readjusting the locks. We’re trapped, end of story.”
Set in Hungary, Satantango is a story of a communist dystopia whose leader is rumoured to be dead. It is a story of a group of people living in a hopeless town longing for a better future. But the leader, Irimias, resurrects and brings hope into the lives of his people again. He reassures the townsfolk and promises them a communist utopia. The townsfolk place their trust in Irimias and risk everything on it. However, their choices lead them to their own doom.

What I absolutely loved about Satantango is the ability of the author and the translator to string the words together so beautifully. The writing style is so unique. The 12 chapters of Satantango are written in one paragraph each. Krasznahorkai’s writing style is often labelled as “postmodern” because more than a few parts of the book consist of extremely long sentences with no pause in between. The characters are beautifully written which glued me to the pages. Their stories and development was so entertaining to read. The writing shifts from one pov to another at any instant but you get used to it. The ambiguity of the plot may bother you a bit but that’s the beauty of it. Laszlo, winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize, is a Hungarian novelist and screenwriter and he was described by Susan Sontag as the contemporary Hungarian master of the apocalypse.

Satantango was translated in English after 27 long years and won the best translated book award in 2013. One thing that I didn’t like about the book is the way Laszlo wrote women. I wish they were not portrayed as weak and powerless. Otherwise, the story is moderately paced, comprehensible and coherent. It can prove a bit difficult to read but it is worth it. In one word, it is a masterpiece.


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