Romanians and Hungarians have a long history of not liking each other. I'm no xenophobe and I have a few friends in Budapest, yet I was sometimes wondering: what does Hungary have to offer in terms of art, music and literature? They could say the same about Romanians, too; what the heck, we are questioning our place in art history ourselves! Well, after reading this novel, I've come to think that Hungarians do have their hidden gems, just the same as we do. Magda Szabó's novel was my first foray into Hungarian literature and my first step towards abating my ignorance. The Door
has one of the most powerful and intriguing characters I've come across until now. She is merely an illiterate caretaker named Emerence, but what a character she is! Surrounded by a shroud of mystery, endowed with mythological strength, dismissive of religion and doctors, mocker of activities that don't include physical work, but also bestower of gifts, vessel of kindness, benefactor of abandoned animals, rescuer of fugitives, possessor of a higher understanding.
She had been everyone's model, everyone's helper, the supreme exemplar. Emerence was pure and incorruptible, the better self that each and every one of us aspired to be. With her permanently veiled forehead and her face that was tranquil as a lake, she asked nothing from anyone and depended on no-one. She shouldered everyone's burden without ever speaking of her own.
I was mesmerized by Emerence from beginning till end, although I can't truly say that I loved her. Her personality is magnetic, raising conflicting feelings, impregnating the reader's memory with a powerful image that lasts.
Her past is surrounded by mystery; the stories about her childhood resemble fairy tales and are just as unreliable. Her present life is also an enigma: she keeps the door to her apartment tightly shut, inviting no one inside her home. All her friends (and she has many) are entertained outside, on her porch. Nobody has the full picture of Emerence - she must have enjoyed a quiet smile at our expense as we struggled to work out the full story, as each of us tried to match his own allotted pieces of information with those granted to others
Almost the whole novel gravitates around Emerence; slowly, we come to know her through the words of the Lady writer who hired her. Much more than the story of a rocky relationship between two different women, The Door
is most of all a tale of discovery and conquest of a monumental personality. Did one of them manage to possess and kneel the other? I killed Emerence...
the woman writer confesses right at the beginning of the novel. But is everything just as simple as that? I had long known that the more simple a thing was, the less likely it was to be understood
, Magda Szabó writes, and she is right.
I could go on an on talking about Emerence; she is truly remarkable. But it's best to discover her through the pages of this novel, which I urge you to read!
I know now, what I didn't then, that affection can't always be expressed in calm, orderly, articulate ways; and that one cannot prescribe the form it should take for anyone else.