You might be wondering about the five-part series I posted some time ago. It is a translation of Krúdy Gyula’s (or Gyula Krúdy’s for non-Hungarians and non-Japanese) short story, the fifth in a series of short stories about this character called Sinbad (Szindbád), named after the famous sailor of course, which have been collected in one big book.
If you read all the stories, you should have a good idea about what a womaniser and generally careless character Sinbad is. You might have even found him repulsive, although narrative-wise he is not portrayed as such.
Today, I would like to offer you a greater context in which this story fits. All the short stories, if read in order, lead us through the life of Sinbad from childhood to death. Some stories are happy, others, such as this one, are very sad. Krúdy loved the fables of One Thousand and One Nights, which is why he chose Sinbad as his hero, sharing that quality of being unable to settle or calm down, having to always be on the move, with the original hero of the original Sinbad story.
Because of this, our Sinbad cannot help but move from place to place, job to job, woman to woman, unable to settle with any one of them. And although the stories start out somewhat parallel to the original character, this Sinbad grows to be an original protagonist over time. He wants to find his old loves to reignite the nice memories he has with them, because his present offers him nothing of value, nothing attractive. He has experienced everything life has to offer, or so the narrator says in the second story.
In truth, past and present realities merge in Sinbad’s mind as he flees from the hopelessness of his life, acting and lying his way towards sought-after novelty, always becoming disillusioned in the end. The past cannot be brought back, and after each story, he gets closer to the realisation that those memories that he has are not even as nice as he first thought. Despite all his attempts, his life just grows bleaker and more barren.
I chose to translate this story because, for whatever reason, it really resonated and touched me. I was at work reading the book, and I remember I had to stop and go out for some fresh air after reading the end of the fifth chapter. I’m not sure whether it was only this story or the experience of reading the first five in one go added together but, also because Hungarian literature generally goes under the radar, I wanted to share some part of my experience. I’m not a masterful translator, but I hope the gist of the wonderful narrative tools Krúdy uses to enact this dreamscape-like world Sinbad lives in shines through enough for this story to touch you as well.
I am attaching the complete fable in one document. (If you notice any mistakes, let me know, and I’ll update it.)