Chico Buarque appears to be one of those renaissance men of the arts–a singer, composer, songwriter, poet, playwright, and novelist. Budapest is, a novel about identity, communication, creation, confusion, and love. I’m perhaps meant to be visiting Hungary soon, since I liked Aruthur Phillips’ Prague (See my 7/6/07 blog Prague–a City in Hungary?), which despite the title, actually took place in Budapest. At any rate, the main character of Budapest, Jos Costa, is a best-selling ghost writer. The author of biographies, articles, novels, and poems on which his name never appears, he travels through life incognito. There’s an occasional blowout at the annual convention of anonymous authors where he can read aloud from his works, but mostly he’s an underground kind of guy.
By accident he lands in Budapest, the perfect novelistic place for a ghost writer, since the native language, Magyar, is bound by the Hungarian borders, neither spoken in other countries or related to any other European language. Even if he learns the language, no one outside of a circumscribed group will know who he is or appreciate his worth. He is laughed at and scorned as he tries make himself understood. He hides out with his beautiful tutor/lover, who also laughs at his clumsy attempts. Yet, mystifyingly, he at times finds himself able to completely understand the language, as well as other languages he cannot speak at all. At other times, he spontaneously speaks languages he also does not know.
He ends up back in Rio De Janeiro, where he lives with his beautiful wife, a TV news commentator who is well known for speaking words she does not write. They have an obese and non-functional son, cared for by a nanny, and Costa is unable to communicate well with any of them. The book’s main crisis occurs when Costa suspects his wife of having an affair with the reputed author of a best-selling book which he, Costa, has actually written, a situation which leads to his making his identity public. Painful. So painful it sends him back to Budapest.
Thus we have a book by and about a man who writes books by, for and about others who claim credit for his writing. And by extension for his living. It’s a vicarious creation about vicarious creation and living. Perhaps in form and content the perfect post-modernist novel. It’s playful and entertaining and makes a point or two about something or another. You decide. I liked it but do not know quite what to make of it.