Magda Szabo (1917-2007) was one of Hungary’s most celebrated authors. In 1949, she was awarded the Baumgarten Prize, one of the most prestigious literary prizes in Hungary. Despite the literary acclaim, Szabo’s writing did not conform to the socialist realism of the Stalinist era and so her literary works were censured from 1949 to 1956 and Szabo was subsequently labeled an enemy of the Communist Party. In 1985, Szabo wrote the internationally acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel The Door.
Set in mid-20th century Hungary, The Door revolves around the unlikely relationship of two women —Magda, the writer, and Emerence, the housekeeper. The intangible ties that individuals form with one another are expressed through the relationship of Magda and Emerence. Despite their differences, arguments, and disputes, Magda and Emerence have deeply held love for each other. The tensions between the two often stems from unfulfilled needs and unreciprocated affections. At one point Magda exclaims, “I know now, what I didn’t then, that affection can’t always be expressed in calm, orderly, articulate ways; and that one cannot prescribe the form it should take for anyone else.”
The character of Emerence is what holds the story together. Her incredible astuteness and reticence equals her passion to love without reservation. Emerence’s tough exterior is the armor which shields her from unwanted pain and grief. Despite being barely literate, Emerence’s understanding of human nature far surpasses the other characters in the story. Her fascinating and mysterious presence is like a black hole, pulling each of the characters into her vortex.
Much like how it begins, Szabo’s The Door reads like a dream. It depicts humanity’s need to connect and the complexities that arise from it. The Door illustrates not only the sense of hope and wonderment when discovering someone to connect with but also the feverish nightmare that arises when the connection has been lost. As much as it mystifies, The Door’s message about humanity remains with the reader long after the book has been read. Szabo perfectly captures the intricacies of human connection and the complex nature of love that binds us all.