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Celestial harmonies : a novel
Esterházy, Péter, 1950-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Harmonia cælestis. English
First edition.
Physical Description:
xiii, 846 pages ; 24 cm
Added Author:
Pub Date:
ECCO, [2004]



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Material Type
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Jungman - Houston Public Library Adult Fiction Book ESTER

On Order



Princes, counts, commanders, diplomats, bishops, and patrons of the arts, revered, respected, and occasionally feared by their contemporaries, the Esterh#65533;zy family was among the greatest and most powerful aristocrats in Hungarian history. Celestial Harmonies is the intricate chronicle of this remarkable family, a story spanning seven centuries of epic conquest, tragedy, triumph, and near annihilation.

Told by P#65533;ter Esterh#65533;zy, a scion of this populous family, Celestial Harmonies unfolds in two parts, revealing two versions of the Esterh#65533;zy story. Book One is a compilation of short passages about the Esterh#65533;zy men, sons reflecting on their fathers, from the earliest days of the Hapsburg Empire to its demise in the early twentieth century and beyond. At one point, the father is seen fighting the Turks and writing psalms, at another he is described as herding geese and feathering his already well-feathered nest. In the nineteenth century, he is caught cavorting with his mistress while looking after matters of state; in the 1940s and 1950s, he is seen helping to organize a number of conspiracies, then reporting them (and himself) to the secret police. Conversely, he is also seen apprehended and tortured by the authorities. The father is a monster and he is an angel, but, above all, he is a man in search of his God.

Book Two chronicles the final chapter in the life of the Esterh#65533;zy family, from the short Communist take over of 1919 to World War Two and its aftermath, when Hungary fell to Soviet rule and the Esterh#65533;zys succumbed to dispossession, resettlement, and impoverishment. Here, P#65533;ter Esterh#65533;zy reveals the story of his immediate family, especially his father, M#65533;ty#65533;s Esterh#65533;zy, who was born into great wealth and privilege in 1919. He worked as a field hand and parquet floor layer under the hard-line Communists, then, later on, as a translator making a meager living. It is a biography of a man who, despite the brutal tides of history, never relinquished the humanist values that were his birthright, and that were as inseparable from him as his illustrious name and heritage.

On the first page of Celestial Harmonies, the father is seen as a baroque grand seigneur; on the last, he is seated by his typewriter, bereft of everything except for the one word, "homeland." The individual stories of these "fathers" -- separated by centuries -- are as complex as the history of Hungary itself. Dazzling in scope and profound in implication, Celestial Harmonies is fiction at its richest and most awe-inspiring.

Author Notes

Péter Esterházy was born in Budapest, Hungary on April 14, 1950. He received a mathematics degree in 1974 before becoming a writer. His major works included Celestial Harmonies, A Little Hungarian Pornography, and The Glance of the Countess Hahn-Hahn (Down the Danube). He received the Kossuth Prize, Hungary's highest cultural distinction, in 1996 and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 2004. He died from pancreatic cancer on July 14, 2016 at the age of 66.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Splicing the fine-grained nostalgia of Nabokov's Speak, Memory with the anarchic spirit of Looney Toons, Esterhazy has created a vast anti-epic. The writer, whose family name holds a place in Hungarian history equivalent to that of the Churchills in British history, takes advantage of his genealogy by making numerous references to his many distinguished ancestors-the very title refers to a Haydn piece commissioned by one of the author's forefathers. Divided into two sections, the novel circles its mark with cunning and humor, lighting on strange outcroppings of family and national lore. The first section contains 371 "sentences," which are really micro to mid-range narratives, all of them about a "father," a term that constantly shifts in meaning: "It goes without saying. My father had many faces, one with a moustache, one with a double chin, one like a Cumanian, et cetera." Sometimes there is a direct reference to Esterhazy's real father ("My father lost all he had, not to mention the estates, the fish ponds, the forests stretching up to Mor, the houses, the palaces, the stocks and bonds..."); sometimes the father is mythological; sometimes he is extracted from another literary text. The novel's second section relates more conventionally the struggle of the Esterhazy family after 1945, when the Communists expropriated their property. Peter's father drinks, gets a job as an agricultural laborer and endures by withdrawing into an inner exile. The patient reader who perseveres through the sometimes knotty Magyar references and nods to writers like Witold Gombrowicz, James Joyce and Donald Barthelme will be rewarded with a sense of having submitted to an astonishing if exhausting outburst of creativity. This is a belated 20th-century masterpiece. (Mar. 12) Forecast: With a little luck, Esterhazy's novel might find the same kind of success as Peter N das's Book of Memories (1997), another big book from a modern-day Eastern European master. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Reimagining Hungary's famed Esterh zy family. "Huge," insists the publicist. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Celestial Harmonies A Novel Book One Numbered Sentences from the Lives of the Esterházy Family "Few of us can deal with the recent past. Either our present lives have too strong a hold on us, or else we are plunged into the troubled waters of the past, trying our utmost to bring back and retrieve something vanished beyond recall. Even in large and wealthy families who owe much to their ancestors, it is the custom to remember the grandfathers rather than the fathers." 1. It is deucedly difficult to tell a lie when you don't know the truth. 2. To kick off a text with a ferocious-looking baroque grand seigneur is gratifying; a thrilling, tingling sensation thrills our bosom, our computers greet us in passing, and our cook, because why shouldn't we have a cook (who we?) serves us -- a surprise! -- breaded lamb's tail, which is like calf's foot except it's more savory because it's more fragile and tender; my father, this ferocious-looking baroque grand seigneur who was in a position, nay under obligation, to raise his eyes to Emperor Leopold, raised his eyes to Emperor Leopold, on his countenance an expression of solemnity, though his eyes, twinkling and mischievous, belied him as always, and he said, It is deucedly difficult, Sire, to tell a lie when you don't know the truth. Having said that, he leaped upon his chestnut steed, Challenger, and galloped off into the discriminating seventeenth-century landscape (or description thereof). 3. My father, it was presumably my father who, with his painter's palette under his coat, sneaked back into the museum, stole back in, to retouch the paintings he'd hung on the wall or, at the very least, to effectuate certain emendations thereof. 4. It seems to me, my father said wracking his brain long and in vain, that nothing is as sacred as that which we do not remember. 5. My father was one of the most generously endowed figures of seventeenth-century Hungarian culture and history. At the peak of his political career, he bore the title of Palatine and Prince of the Empire. He turned the palace of Kismarton into a magnificent residence, building several churches and keeping sculptors and painters in his employ at Court. Several members of the family learned to play musical instruments. My father "clapped out" his favorite pieces on the virginal, Prince Pál Antal had mastered several instruments (some say the violin, flute and lute, others the violin and the cello), while it is commonly accepted that Haydn composed his pieces expressly for Prince Miklós the Magnificent, who loved the baryton and magnificence in equal measure. My father wrote several volumes of poetry, most of which testify to the influence of the great baroque poet and military commander, Miklós Zrínyi. He also published works on religion, as well as prayer books. His collection of religious psalms, Celestial Harmonies, was published in Vienna in 1711. Furthermore, until recently, Hungarian musicologists have considered him a composer of some note. Latest findings, however, suggest that his contributions are somewhat limited, not only because a number of the melodies in the book can be shown not to have originated with him (most contemporary composers worked with borrowed melodies), but because, it seems, he did not compose the pieces, or adapt existing melodies, himself. His scores are not only rudimentary and tentative on the surface, they are incorrect, too. Judging by the extant documents, the schism between my father's mental faculties and his erudition and Celestial Harmonies is so wide, especially its more intricate layers, that it would take a great leap of the imagination to span. (To mention only the most important types of suspension bridges pertaining hereof, there's the plain, the specially anchored, the self-anchored, and also the cable bridge, the slant-cable harp-bridge, the slanted star-cable bridge, the slanted fan-shaped, and the single-pylon slanted harp-cable varieties. My father played on the harp as well as the star.) 6. For the second movement of a symphony, said the youthful Haydn for the benefit of my no longer youthful, but once again impatient (overeager) father, you must be of a certain age. 7. The -- here my father's name follows -- stands for a dream. It stands for a Hungarian dream about a prodigally rich man, a lord palming inside his purse with both hands, sifting through his bank notes like chaff. It stands for a landowner, whose figure could have been taken from a folktale, weighing his silver and gold by the bushel. It stands for the wealthy Hungarian. In the popular imagination, my father's name conjured up all the things that can make life a heaven here on earth. It stood for a petty monarchy, not like the kind you'll find in folklore that stops at the village outskirts, but a demesne that is just a jot smaller than the old king's very own. It stood for fields so vast, the wild geese could not traverse them in one night's flight, let alone a man of dreams and fantasies reduced to hearing only the ephemeral screech of these nocturnal creatures. It stood for palaces with swirling towers and flapping banners gazing at their reflections in the mirror of the lake out of boredom, because their master had no time to spare for them. Palaces by the street full, uninhabited except by a gatekeeper, sitting and growing his beard, while in the locked rooms, the portraits of those who had once loved each other or had turned their backs on each other in enmity now live their private lives. The unoccupied servants are into their cups at the Ivkoff Inn on József Street, a favorite haunt of those serving the idle rich. The -- here my father's name follows -- name is legendary. At the close of the nineteenth century, when the great Hungarian manor houses began their decline in earnest ... Celestial Harmonies A Novel . Copyright © by Peter Esterhazy. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Celestial Harmonies by Peter Esterhazy All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

A Brief Introductionp. vii
Book 1 Numbered Sentences from the Lives of the Esterhazy Familyp. 1
Book 2 Confessions of an Esterhazy Familyp. 393
Commentsp. 843

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