This book offers a very intricate, highly precise collage of images, each capturing something about the times we live in. It shows various versions of the discontent and crises that have become the trademark of our era. Each chapter can be read as a short story – at least that was how I started my reading, before I realised that they are in fact snippets or facets of a wider, all-encompassing narrative. And thus the separate short stories turned into the chapters of a novel. Each is indeed like a pixel – in close-up they are only separate dots, functioning on their own, but seen from a distance, they produce a larger image. Everything is connected to everything else.
Krisztina Tóth is a poet, and it shows. She definitely has a way with words. She is precise, careful, even frugal with them. There is not one that could be removed without the delicate structure collapsing. And the words themselves are always well thought-out; Tóth makes them shine, sometimes brings a surprising colour to them. I wish I were able to read Hungarian … The precision of the English version of Pixel has to be assigned at least in part to the translator, Owen Good. I often thought, while reading, that his job required talent and craftsmanship, but also the precision and steady hand of a medieval miniature painter or filigree maker.
Each story/chapter in Pixel takes its title from a body part, some more intimate, some less. So you have ‘The Hand’s Story’, ‘The Navel’s Story’ and ‘The Vagina’s Story’. Interestingly, Tóth starts with more neutral and visible body parts and then moves on to some more secret areas or even goes inside the body (‘The Stomach’s Story’). In this way she slowly builds an image of a body consisting of interconnected parts, a world in its own right.
This concept of a body as a universe is not new, but what Krisztina Tóth portrays is very contemporary. Let’s not forget that this is a Hungarian writer, living under the Viktor Orban dictatorship, watching and hearing the rampantly nationalistic, bigoted, anti-immigrant, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Romani and/or homophobic rhetoric that currently fills Hungarian (not only Hungarian, of course) politics and media. But, interestingly, the book was first published in 2011, before the situation in Hungary escalated and also before the refugee crisis in Europe. So, perhaps there is a bit of a prophesy in Tóth’s portrayal of Europe in the early twenty-first century. It is sharp, uncomfortable and painful. It is the world in a state of flux; the world we live in.
Reviewed by Anna Blasiak
Written by Krisztina Tóth
Translated by Owen Good
Published by Seagull Books (2019)
This review was originally published on European Literature Network website in February 2020.