Remembering Endre Tóth: Some Preliminary Notes

by Lester Shepard

I was delighted and moved to see your [Ralph Dumain’s] excellent translation of a story by Endre Tóth, who was a close friend of mine. Perhaps you know that he lost his eyesight in a tragic accident at age fourteen. I think he had extraordinary poetic gifts. From time to time I have entertained the idea of trying to revive his memory, believing that he had been entirely forgotten. I read “Lappar” in Esperanto and most of his stories and poems in the original Hungarian. He was also a composer of remarkable originality, as far I can judge, being no expert on music.

He and I were inseparable friends in the lower grades of the so-called gymnasium (Central European terminology). We were both bubbling with strange notions, constantly playing harmless but highly entertaining pranks. He had a way of lifting you up from the humdrum routine of daily living, a magic quality, although I didn’t altogether realize it at the time. This is almost the sole link I can find between E. T. the childhood friend and the adult author. We rarely discussed literature. I thought of him as a delightful but somewhat superficial person.

In 1945 he was playing with an unexploded artillery shell that went off, completely blinding him. After finishing secondary school (by this time I had left Hungary) he was admitted to the prestigious Franz Liszt Academy of Music. He no doubt wanted to be a concert pianist. But he never graduated. I do not know the reason.

A long time passed. I met him in Budapest in 1964. In 1980 I wrote to him again, this time to tell him that our friendship had been the most precious thing in my life. He replied—typically—by a long telegram. He mentioned that he had taken up writing. But my next letter was answered by his mother who informed me that Endre had died.

I am inclined to think that most of E. Toth’s stories were first written out in Hungarian. An exception may be “Lappar”, which is the only one in that collection I never saw in Hungarian. They were sent to me after Endre’s death by his mother, actually first as cassettes read by my friend himself. It was, to begin with, a devastating feeling to listen to them. But beyond the grief I was amazed at the depth—to say nothing of the craft, the sophistication—they attested to, revealing a core I never realized lay hidden behind the easygoing facade. I am reminded of what Alcibiades says about Socrates in the Symposium: he is like one of those Silenus statuettes that reveal the image of a god inside when you open them. They made a powerful impact on me, I would listen to them in bed after a frustrating day teaching Humanities 101 (or some such, which in my mind I soon had started to refer to in my thoughts as Inhumanities 101). They soothed me, they rehumanized me. The voice was like medicine; although he was a profoundly divided man, it gave me a sense of peace.

Your characterization of “Groto” is in my view quite on the mark. The story seems influenced by semiotics and Derrida as well, though I’m not sure if E. T. had any first-hand acquaintance with him. Nevertheless, E. T.’s main contribution and strength I believe are poetic rather than philosophical. Endre wrote a piece where he sort of charts out or outlines his planned future works, comparing them to a dome resting on pillars, each of which represents a theme important for his personal mythology. This is a particularly arresting composition, a weaving together of architectural, musical, and philosophical threads. I spent, I remember, considerable time attempting to figure it out at the explicit or literal level, with only partial success.

He was also a composer, and I have one of his pieces on a cassette. The recording quality is poor, but that’s not essential. Piano (his own), saxophone, and base drum plus whale calls. That is, he worked into his composition those eerie whale laments, signals by which they keep in touch with each other over hundreds of miles, a symbol of loneliness and a yearning for contact. This is in my opinion at the very least ingenious. The whales are (as if) singing parts in his composition.

I would say he probably published other pieces in the Esperanto press in addition to those in Lappar. He was however not an established, well-known author in Hungary. At least one of his pieces was played on radio.

© 2001 Lester Shepard

The constructed narrative above was compiled into a web page on 25 December 2001 by R. Dumain from correspondence of 29 May - 26 December 2001. I did not receive any responses from Mr. Shepard after that. He wished me to hold off on publishing anything by him until he could construct a more complete narrative, but he also admitted being in ill health. As I cannot reach him now, I am assuming this is a finished chapter, unless a relative of his or a surviving member of the Tóth family could provide additional manuscript or archival material. I should at least, however, translate this and my own tribute into Esperanto.

— Ralph Dumain, 6 September 2012

A Memorial Tribute to Endre Tóth
by Ralph Dumain

Cave” by Endre Tóth, translated by R. Dumain

“Mi Ne Deziras Esti Juvelo” de Georgi Miĥalkov

Aŭtune de Endre Tóth

"La murdita juglandarbo" de Endre Tóth

Esperanto & Interlinguistics Study Guide / Retgvidilo pri Esperanto & Interlingvistiko

On other sites / Alireteje:

"Groto" in Esperanto

“Die Grotte”: German translation of story / germanlingva traduko de "Groto"

German translation of short story collection Lappar, La Antikristo /
germanlingva traduko de novelaro: LAPPAR, DER ANTICHRIST

Lappar, La Antikristo

"Esperanta Antikristo ekster la Verda Infero" de Tomasz Chmielik

"La Plej Valora" de Sten Johansson

Endre Tóth - Vikipedio

Lappar, la antikristo - Vikipedio

Pri E. Tóth parolas Julian Modest kaj Vilmos Benczik
El la Songazeto 3 de Literatura Foiro
(sonregistraĵo / sound file)

Antichrist - International Film Festival Rotterdam 2013 - IFFR

Antychryst (Adam Guzinski, 2003), short film / filmeto

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Uploaded 6 September 2012

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