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Стефан Ланг, автор «Кротолова»

Промова Валтера фон Теффелея під час презентації книжки нідерландського письменника Стефана Ланга “Кротолов”

Speech Kiev – Presentation “The Molehunter” in Ukranian

I would like to say some words on the occasion of the translation of Stephan Lang’s book “The Molenhunter” in the Ukranian language.

First I want to have a short review about the backgrounds of this book. Next to that I will tell you how I got to know Stephan Lang and what kind of a person he was.

With the Trianon Treaty (1920) Transsylvania was allocated to Romenia. Hungary was reduced to the size of 29% of the original territory. There was no opportunity for Hungary to negotiate about this. The new borders had to beaccepted – millions of Hungarians came to live outside the original frontiers. Transsylvania was such an area. Next to the existing villages, there had to be Romenian villages: the nobility living in Transsylvania was chased away and expropriated. But the tide soon changed. In 1940 Hungary got back two thirds of Transsylvania – the main reason Hitler had to be appeased. With violence the Romenian villagers were driven out of their houses. In 1946 tides changed again and the Transsylvanian area was Romenian anew. Very soon follows the communist terror. Stalin claimed hundred of thousands of people who had to perform what was called “reparation-works”.

In these special historical circumstances on August 16 1945 a baby is born. He receives the name of Lang Istvбn. The date is exact one day after the end of WW II. His village of birth Kбlmбnd was at that moment Hungarian. Two years later it was added to the Romenian territory and the name of the village changed into Capleni.

In the stories of the different persons in “The Molehunter” Stephan Lang the hidden times of precisely this period of the Transylvanian history comes bit by bit more clear. The central person and narrator brings up – in a very emphatical way the ‘the dumb struck legends and silent tokens in this insignificant village’, the steam mill that went up in flames as a protest against the coming of the Russians; the school were the narrator learnt to sing the Soviet Anthem and the pub that he didn’t dare to enter.

In the personal history of the narrator there is a lot hidden and suppressed. As a ten-year old he gets the nickname “The Molehunter”, because his mother ordered him to catch a mole and kill it – an ordeal so that the boy would be able to cope to difficulties later in his life. The boy only gets recurring nightmares.

Only thirty years later the central person and narrator realizes himself that the motives of his mother for this almost impossible task van be brought back to an aversion and even self-hatred of the mother herself – as a forced labored in the coalmines of the Donbass Basin. On het deathbed she tells her son in a burst of open-heartedness how and when he is conceived.

At a certain moment the central person believes that the nickname Molehunter is a just nickname. In 1956 – the year of the Hungarian uprising – the central person and his best friend Tibor decide to dig a tunnel to Hungary. But then the village is suddenly encircled by tanks, and – while Tibor is working in the tunnel, a tank drives over the entrance. The friend suffocates, but the narrator keeps his mouth shut out of fear for punishment and retaliatory measures. Since that moment the person thinks of himself as a Molehunter, but not really as a hunter but more as the opposite: a moleshunner, the mole as horror.

For years Stephan Lang yearned to be back in the house where he grew up. But once there – in 1989, a few weeks after the fall of Ceausescu – and his mother is dying – he gets afraid of the past. ‘Where is home?’. Home is where the heart is. And his heart is – the narrator – realizes himself in the Netherlands – The Hague.

How did I get acquainted with Stephan Lang?

In 2004 I went to a meeting about Culture & Europe in Felix Meritis in Amsterdam. Felix Meritis is a well-known centre of discussion founded in the 17th century, as a centre of Enlightment & Culture. It is housed in a classical building with fine architecture. In the cafe-restaurant I saw a free chair next to a small table. One of the people sitting next to the table was a small man who proved to be from Hungarian dependence. His name was Stephan Lang. He wanted a red wine, which I brought him (and one for myself as well of course). He appeared to live 100 meter from my place in The Hague. He came to visit me and gave me his two most important books. I became his agent and through the time I got to learn him and his background better and better.

Stephan proved to be a charming, artistic and emotional person.

With nine keywords I shall make a sketch of him.

1. Artist

Stephan was a real artist. He surely lived like an artist. He was fond of music, theatre and literature. Of these disciplines, theatre was for him number one, I guess. His book “The Transsylvanian Marriage” (which should also be translated in Ukrainian) started as a theatre play, for which he works hard to let it be played. As for music: Stephan could be very moved by certain pieces of music.

2. Smoker

Stephan was a heavy smoker. Sometimes a cigarette every 10 minutes. I remember his last months in the hospital. By wheelchair he went outside and smoked two / three cigarettes after each other. The brand Kent, I remember.

3. Talker

Stephan liked to talk, in small and in big company. He just went to people, even if he didn’t know them. Many times such a talk would develop into an argument, in which Stephan defended a certain point of view fervently. He never let loose on his point of view.

4. Writer

Stephan was a writer of high stature. Only look at the various comments of leading critics in the most important newspapers in the Netherlands. Unfortunately he didn’t start with what had to be his Magnum Opus Kraaienmars / The Last March. All the material he had gathered, but he wrote only six pages of it.

5. Hungarian Dutchman

Stephan saw himself foremost as a Dutchman. But he was a special Dutchman: a Hungarian Dutchman. His Hungarian roots were very present. Of Holland and the Dutch he admired their freedom, their straightness and their trade-mentality. But they lacked emotion and philosophical thought, to his opinion. The Hungarians on the other hand, did possess these last qualities.

6. Lover of Hungarian food

Stephan was crazy about Hungarian food. Vegetables in grape-leaves, roasted goose. And of course, with a good wine. He was an eager participant in the Hungarian feasts, with singing and dancing, especially in Hungary and Transsylvania. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to go there anymore in his last years.

7. Citizen of The Hague

Many times Stephan told how much he loved his city. “In Amsterdam I wouldn’t live.” He lived in the centre of the city and he had a lot of acquaintances and friends. He liked to go to certain pubs, especially at evenings when there was live music. The last years you could find him at Pavlov on the Spui Street. Some month before his passing away we were in the garden of Pavlov – inside it wasn’t allowed to smoke – talking with translator Elena Vlasenko. Many times he remembered this meeting. He was very happy with. In the upper floor of Pavlov we celebrated musically the commemoration of Stephan last December. Of course with a gipsy orchestra. Stephan was mad of gipsy orchestras. Once we were in Amsterdam at a concerto of Tata Mirando. Stephan stood up, climbed on the table and started to sing with the orchestra with a loud voice.

8. Sufferer

The last few years Stephan suffered a lot. He was weakened by all kind of diseases. Many nights he didn’t sleep for hours. But all the time he kept finding inspiration in his friends.

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