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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

One Minute Stories

István Örkény

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To purchase One Minute Stories

Title: One Minute Stories
Author: István Örkény
Genre: Fiction
Written: to 1979 (Eng. 1995)
Length: 128 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: One Minute Stories - US
Minimythes - French-Canadian
Minutennovellen - Deutschland
  • Taken from various editions of Egyperces novellák and other works by Istvan Orkeny
  • Translated by Judith Sollosy
  • With an Introduction by Andrew Riemer
  • Note that the German edition also considered in this review (2002, translated by Terézia Mora and with an Afterword by György Konrád) contains some but not all of the same egyperces novellák

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good, varied collection of sharp, effective little fictions

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ A+ 8/10/2002 Andreas Breitenstein

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mit hinreissendem dialektischem Witz, in den gleichermassen Ironie, Melancholie und Zynismus einfliessen, präsentiert Örkény die Spesenrechnung, die grosse Geschichte im Kleinen hinterlassen hat. Nichts Unmenschliches ist dem Autor fremd, und eben deshalb ist er kein Apostel hoher Moral, sondern ein Beobachter von erbarmungsloser Genauigkeit." - Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Andreas Breitenstein

Note that the NZZ review refers to the German edition of Minutennovellen, a selection quite different from that in One Minute Stories

Please note that these ratings solely represent
the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Egyperces novellák are István Örkény's trademark tales -- mini-, or rather minute-stories (or, more accurately, -novellas), each, at most, a few pages in length, easily and quickly digested. He published dozens of them over his career, and One Minute Stories presents a selection of fifty-eight of them in English.
       The first offers "Handling Instructions", explaining how the one minute stories might be enjoyed and reminding readers to also pay careful heed to the titles ("they form an organic part" of the tales). And he closes with the agreeable warning:

     Attention ! If something is not clear to you, reread the story in question. If it is still not clear to you, dump the story, the fault lies with the author. There are no dim-witted readers, only badly written one minute stories.
       The pieces themselves vary in length, from a single sentence to several pages (the longest in this collection is six pages). Few tell actual stories, in the general sense of the word. Most either resemble anecdotes, or present some piece of information in what might be considered a deadpan (or, occasionally, surreal) style. One "story" lists the six steps for using a fire extinguisher, as might be found on the instruction label on one (here it is, of course, the title of the story -- "Life should be so simple" -- that is the most telling), another offers variations on warnings not to step on the grass, etc.
       Repetition makes for sly jokes at the Hungarian condition under the Soviet shadow, and Örkény employs it in several pieces. In one an advert in the classifieds is an offer to exchange literally identical apartments, another is a "Stubborn misprint" -- a correction that corrects nothing.
       Many of the stories must be appreciated in the context of the time they were written, when Hungary was a Soviet satellite and state control was almost absolute. Stories such as "Fifties news item" -- -- a one-sentence piece about a man going to bed -- otherwise hardly seem impressive.
       Still, there are many that stand on their own. Among the best is "Optical illusion", in which an "eminent professor of physics at Budapest University" dies, the autopsy revealing that rather than the dotty eccentric he had always appeared to be he really was literally just a bunch of dots which, for sixty-nine years, all of a Budapest had mistaken for a real person. Similarly effective is "The death of the actor" -- a death that doesn't stop him from going on stage as usual that night (though "looking rather worse for wear during Act I").
       Most of the stories do focus on Hungary and the Soviet experience, and Örkény does manage to get away with quite a lot of fairly sharp stuff. One story, "Professors before the bench" describes the verdict in a court trial against contributors to a Great Hungarian Lexicon, presenting numerous of the entries -- including:
HUNGARY. A mania (med. fixa idea) with a population of ten million. It is now generally regarded as curable, though this would take away much of its charm.
       The stories are clever and witty, and a few a very dark ("In memoriam Dr. H.G.K." remarkably presents a terrible clash of cultures in typical pithy style). Certainly worthwhile.

       Note: A German collection of Örkény's Minutennovellen, recently published by Suhrkamp, has some overlap, but less than a third of the stories are the same. Among the missing (from the English) bits: beautiful pieces like that of a suicidal tulip, the very nice rubber-stamp piece (since everything needed to be officially stamped and approved in the wonderful bureaucracy of the time), a blank-page piece, and numerous other worthwhile stories.
       One Minute Stories is a nice collection, but the Minutennovellen suggests there's a lot more of them that should still be translated into English. No doubt: a translation of the collected Egyperces novellák into English is called for.

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One Minute Stories: Reviews: István Örkény: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Hungarian author István Örkény (1912-1979) was a leading dramatist and wrote the very popular Egyperces novellák

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