Attila Bartis was born in Marosvásárhely, in the Transylvanian region of Romania, in 1968. His family belonged to the Hungarian minority there, and his father, a journalist, faced discrimination up until their departure for Budapest in 1984. Once in the Hungarian capital Bartis studied to become a photographer, a profession he continues to this day. His photographs have been shown in several exhibitions.
After six years of work Bartis’s first novel, “A séta” (t: The walk), appeared in 1995. The characteristically cool and nightmarish tone of his work is already evident, pervading also the author’s subsequent texts, reminding critics of Kafka, Camus and A.L. Kennedy. The book depicts a childhood and adolescence stricken by a claustrophobic disposition towards suffering at the time of the Hungarian Revolution. Following the death of the protagonist’s grandfather in an old people’s home, the child must witness a beloved governess being killed in a raid. The main character later finds refuge in a house frequented by cranky old men who die off one by one. Eruptive sexuality and the process of growing up only bring new and painful experiences. Told through haunting images, sparse dialogue and anecdotal terseness, the plot ranges from the strange to the macabre, while memory sequences and digressions add to the atmosphere of bleakness and frigidity. Bartis’s second book, the short story collection “A kéklö pára” (1998; t: The bluish haze), depicts childhood experiences against the backdrop of the restrictive Communist system from the as yet not fully developed perspective of the child protagonist.
Bartis’s next novel, “A nyugalom” (2001; t: The calm) was translated into German in 2005. It tells the story of a young writer and his mother, once a celebrated actress. After her daughter escapes to the West and she is no longer allowed to perform, she locks herself up at home and tyrannises her son, who is incapable of breaking away. A romantic relationship, featured as both passionate and fragile, brings a spark of hope into his life. In the book – that is often perceived as a novel about the fall of Communism – the end of the dictatorship does not provide any (happy) endings within the protagonists’ own emotional worlds.
Most recently Bartis has published a twelve-part series of literary essays entitled “A Lázár apokrifek” (2005; t: Lazarus’s apocrypha), which were originally written for the literary journal “Èlet és Irodalom”. They are meditations on everyday life and writing; travelogues, which are mostly haunting personal memories and experiences which are shaped into twelve “true stories about God”.
Bartis has received numerous scholarships both for his photographic and literary work, among them the Móricz Zsigmond Scholarship for his first novel. He has also been awarded the Tibor Déry Prize and the Márai Prize. He lives in Budapest and is currently a guest of the Artists-in-Berlin program of the German Academic Exchange Service.
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