The Flower Show and The Toth Family, two novellas in one volume by István Örkény (1912-79), introduce to an English-speaking audience a Hungarian writer with a keen sense of the absurdities of modern life. In the '60s and '70s, Örkény's vein of black comedy earned him the epithet "master of the grotesque" for the popular dramatizations of these and other novels. The Flower Show (1977) is Örkény's last novel and his most widely translated work of fiction. With consummate irony, the author exploits our universal unease in the face of death, the desire to "star" taken to its ultimate absurdity by playing the lead in one's own demise, and the voyeurism of the modern media. In The Toth Family (1967) a mad army major on leave terrorizes a village fireman and his family, forcing them to cut and fold endless quantities of cardboard packing boxes every night until dawn. Originally written as a filmscript, the novel's scenes flicker past in lunatic array as Örkény satirizes Hungary of the early '40s and the acquiescence of a quasi-feudal, nationalistic, caste-ridden society to the atuhoritarian state of Nazi Germany. The impression is as if the Marx Brothers had been born out of Dr. Strangelove.
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