When I finally telephoned Görbe he hesitated on the line, pretending not to remember my aunt, then grew curious when I rejected his suggestion that instead of bothering him I try to meet writers at the Hungarian Cultural Center. "I'm boycotting the place," I said, explaining how I'd gone three weeks prior to see György Konrád and afterwards spoke with the centre's director, László somebody or other, about my writing, and he'd faked interest, even enthusiasm, in that way they do so well in New York. This László person had advised me to put together an email with excerpts from my books and reviews, and to send it to him, and he'd get back to me. Hunting down the quotes and composing the email took the better part of a day, but László never respondednot to the email, not to the follow-up, nothing. "With all the time and bother it took, I could have taken my kids to the park," I said, "or gone to the Met with Marcya hundred different things." Görbe laughed. It was like listening to a shout at the end of a long drainpipe. "Defaulting to the wife and kids, huh?" he said. "Listen, I hate the centre too. The programming . . . well, it's like being inside a mind the size of a walnut. And the women they have working the barit would kill them to smile. I never go there anymore."
"Uh . . ." I said.
"You're petty and embittered, kid," he shouted into the phone. "Running on despair. Narcissistic. Vindictive. I love it! Listen, you like Jew food?"
"Sure," I said.
"Your wife and kids, they're coming too, right?" He chuckled. "Before I help a writer I need to see what his home life is like."
It was a strange request, but it didn't take me long during that dinner at Carnegie's to see that he loved kids, my kids, and had a way of hitting all the right spots with Marcy's sense of humourshe was always amused by men who magnified their idiosyncrasies to comic levelsand before I knew it, before I'd even decided if I wanted to be friends with Görbe, she'd invited him to our place for dinner the next weekend. After that, with how much the kids loved him, and his attention to Marcy, we began seeing him regularly.
All of Görbe's books feature the same three protagonists: a six-year-old boy named Fritz, a girl the same age named Susanna, and a kindly court jester who's all of four years old, but whose illogical brain is perfect for figuring out the dream world and so is the wisest of them all. In the early books, the stories are about Fritz and Susanna falling asleep at night only to end up in the same dream. They spend the rest of the adventure trying to escape (with the jester's help of course). As the books go on and the children's home lives are revealeddire poverty, Fritz's absent mother and sullen father, Susanna's illness (what in the early twentieth century was called "neurasthenia"), the cruelty of schoolFritz and Susanna decide they don't want to wake up, they want to stay asleep, and the later stories are haunted by the fear that what separates dream from reality is as thin as tissue, and once it's torn they'll never again find their way back to the jester and the endless continents of sleep. The latest book ends with the two children coming upon a strange machine that will keep them there foreverif only they can figure out how to use it.
That's the eleventh book in the series. It was published last year after we returned to Kitchener. I remember sitting with Benjamin in Words Worth Books on a snowy January day going through the illustrations and story and coming to the end, where Benjamin lingered, tracing his finger along the illustration of the dream machine, and finally said, "It was different when he read it to us." I looked at him, wondering what he was talking about, because all I remembered of Görbe's voice was the volume and rancid tobacco on his breath. It was Benjamin who reminded me that when Görbe read to himas opposed to when Görbe spoke to mehis tone became quiet, it had a breathlessness to it, as if he too had no idea how the story would end and was as eager as any kid to find out. "You're right," I said, remembering those early nights in our apartment, "he did read that way," my children tucked under each of his beefy arms.
Excerpted from Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy. Copyright © 2013 by Tamas Dobozy. Excerpted by permission of Milkweed Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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