Hungarian Romani Literature: An Overview


Zoltán Beck

Menyhért Lakatos (1926–2007)

The beginnings of Hungarian Romani literature coincide with the period of late modern prose fiction. Menyhért Lakatos’s novel Füstös képek [Smoky Pictures] was published in 1975, making her one of the first female Roma authors whose works are included in the Hungarian literary canon.

Peter, the narrator-protagonist, tells the story of a southern Hungarian Roma community. The story is told from an internal perspective, since Peter is a member of the community, but in contrast to other members he is also in contact with the external, non-Roma world and is thus capable of reflecting from an outsider’s point of view as well. The novel is set between the beginning of the twentieth century and the Holocaust. It was published in English under the title The Color of Smoke (2015) and in German as Bitterer Rauch (1978).

Lakatos’ later works are characterised by fragmentation. The texts in the collection of short stories Csandra szekere [The Chariot of Chandra] from 1981 exhibit an interplay between mythical elements and reality. One of the short novels in the book, Egy Körös menti köztársaságról [About the Republic of Vésztő], is a mythical narrative and realist prose fiction at the same time. The story has slowly become a topos of Hungarian literature. The novel A mi kis köztársaságunk [Our Little Republic] by László Márton, published in 2014, dealt with the same topic, and Márton refers to Lakatos’ early novel in an interview. A motion picture based on the short stories of Csandra szekere was also shot with the same title in 2016.

The boundaries of Menyhért Lakatos’s textual universe are demarcated by depictions of reality in almost sociographical detail (Akik élni akartak [Who Wanted to Live], 1982), as well as by myths, sagas and magical tales, such as Hosszú éjszakák meséi [The Tales of Long Nights, 1979].