Satantango, a novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai  “…they trusted the new would not only erase the old but utterly replace it.”

The misfortune of the people is highlighted by the rain which pours unceasingly down on them, through their windows and into their houses where the rats dwell and the mold grows.

Perhaps Irimias will help them as he has promised, taking their money piled up before him on a table; they have given him all they have. All their trust is on him, whom they make out to be their savior.

But, he disappears for awhile, and it seems they have been conned out of their money and out of the hope they carried for the future.

The people drink, and dance, and malign one another as they wait for Irimias to return. The women talk incessantly, or lure the men with their sexuality, and everyone seems debased and foolish and destitute.

“We are born into this stye of a world,” he thought, his mind still pounding, “-like pigs rolling in our own muck, with no idea what all that jostling at the teats amounts to, why we’re engaged in this perpetual hoof-to-mouth combat on the path that leads to the trough, or to our beds at dusk.”

Is it a dream? Is it a governmental trick? Are the people suffering in this flooded village where there is no work a symbol for society in general? Or, are they simply a subset who yearn for the life that once was held in the abandoned manor home they cannot imagine paying to heat?

Eventually everyone was resigned to the sense of helplessness, hoping for miracles, watching the clock with ever greater anxiety, counting the weeks and months until even time lost its importance and they sat around all day in the kitchen, getting a few pennies from here and there that they immediately drank away in the bar.

This could be a small town in Illinois, rather than a village in Hungary.

Irimias, the hoped for leader, imagines a better world.

What I want is to establish a small island for a few people with nothing left to lose, a small island free of exploitation, where people work for, not against, each other, where everyone has plenty and peace and security and can go to sleep at night like a proper human being…

Who doesn’t want that?! I’m reading a book whose plot I can barely follow, which ends up in exactly the same place it began, but one thing is abundantly clear:  Krasznahorkai writes of the bleakest aspects of our lives in a dreamlike and haunting way. Without giving any clear answers as to how we got here, or how we can get away; perhaps bringing the conditions of depravity to light is enough to cause us to come up with our own.

Satantango won the 2013 award for best translated fiction. Read more about the author from New Directions books here.

8 thoughts on “Satantango, a novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai  “…they trusted the new would not only erase the old but utterly replace it.””

  1. Love the comparison to a small town in Illinois, could even by one of those ones where coal was once king & has recently been raised as possible again, also love the

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  2. Island mentality & the ideal past reminds me of my own nation’s current turmoil making Irimias either one of the leaders pushing Brexit here in the UK or without offending you some of the stuff we here from your leader, although in both cases Krasznahorkai’s writing makes the Irimias character far more subtle


    1. Both of our countries are in turmoil, but I suggest that perhaps the problem lies more with the people than the leaders. Not a popular opinion, nor do I wish to enter into political discourse for long here in my happy reading place. I, personally, have a problem with loosening values where if everything is right, what is wrong? Nothing is morally wrong anymore, to the people at large, and it frustrates me. Lest I go down a path I do not want to go, let me return to this novel…

      I liked it. I was mesmerized by the writing and the mood that he is able to create. I think that if I understand what he is saying, the world of which he writes is applicable to all of us today no matter where we are. It is a lost world, with few finding either the means or the way to flourish in it.

      Irimias is a subtle character…could it be that he is the devil with whom they dance?


  3. It’s a perfectly timeless novel it could be now, or some decaying medieval village or in some apocalyptic future it could be placed & would be applicable in any of those settings & the fact that Krasznahorkai never makes it clear who or what Irimias is so he becomes a projection of the thoughts/ desires of all he comes across makes him such a wonderful character.


    1. Perfectly stated. Irimias is a fascinating character, perceived as their savior yet does he really come through? He seems good, he takes their money, seems to find them jobs, and yet it is never clear what the end result turns out to be. The more I think about this book, the more I like it, and as usual, it helps me to discuss it with you; to have reread your review from 2013. Amazing that you can remember it well enough to discuss so lucidly tonight.

      It will be awhile before I can pick up War and War, though. This one, at a mere 250 pages, took me days to read as I found myself struggling for comprehension.


  4. I bought this & a couple more by LK in a fit of enthusiasm a while back, but haven’t yet summoned up the energy (or courage?) to start it. The long film looks equally daunting


    1. Courage is a good word, not only for perceiving Krasznahorkai has to say, but for reading about a tango with Satan. This is a book I’m sure I grasped only superficially, but what I read was so interesting and so powerful. I wonder if it’s weird that it reminded me a little bit of The Master and Margarita…

      Anyway, I will endeavor to read War and War next, per Parrish Lantern’s recommendation, but like you, I’ll need to summon the energy.


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