29.8.14

Jeno Heltai - Jaguar

Rating 6.8

'Jaguar' is a strange animal of a book. 

I stumbled upon this one by chance while in Budapest for holidays and looking for books by Hungarian novelists. I had never heard of this novella and its author before. Thanks to the excellent (and Budapest based) Corvina Kiadò for having translated 'Jaguar' into English making it widely available in the bookshops of the Hungarian capital. 

Written by the Hungarian journalist, poet and playwright Jeno Heltai in 1914, 'Jaguar' is set twenty-three years earlier.

Now, back in 1891, Heltai's beloved Budapest was quite an exciting place to be. The town itself had been created only eighteen years later by merging the municipalities of Buda and Pest with Obuda. The beautiful Chain Bridge was only forty-two year old and the first line of the Budapest Metro was going to open in five year time. 
The city was probably at its cultural and economic peak back then within a still powerful Austria-Hungary and sporting a multilingual identity. Budapest in 1891 had an exciting nightlife, excellent theatres, cafes, museums and a number of daily newspapers. 

Heltai lived those years working as a reporter for one of those newspapers and sort of romanticises the deeds of his early career in this novella. You'll learn how journalists in fin-de-siecle Budapest were often penniless, spent a good deal of time in coffee houses, lived in furnished rooms and worked til the early hours.

Yes, 'Jaguar' is an odd book. 
Semi-crime fiction novel, semi-entertainment, semi-spy story, the book revolves around the weird and kaleidoscopic character of Jaguar, a columnist who saves from closure the newspaper he writes for. 
Jaguar manages to do this by ensuring the publisher one exclusive scoop per week and the way he gets those news is sensational in itself.

Suffice is to say that Budapest will soon discover the existence of the daring 'There is Still Humour in the World Burglars' and Old Soldiers' Association' led by the bold and mysterious Great Nemo.

I cannot imagine a book like 'Jaguar' having been written anywhere else than in Hungary. Fellow Hungarian novelists such as Antal Szerb and Gyula Krudy might have loved this one; I've found it an entertaining quick read.