Péter Zilahy

Péter Zilahy was born in Budapest in 1970. After finishing school he studied philosophy and anthropology at the ELTE University in Budapest. From 1997 to 1999 he was managing editor of the Internet magazine »Link Budapest«, a magazine published in English and Hungarian, for contemporary literature. Since 1998 he is also publisher of art books and supervises the »JAK World edition« for JAK, the Hungarian Young Writers’ Association. In this series he also publishes young German authors in Hungary, for example Ingo Schulze and Jenny Erpenbeck.

At the age of 23, he published his first poetry volume: »Lepel alatt ugrásra kész szobor« (1993). In his short stories, Zilahy tells of his long journeys in many parts of the world, above all in East European countries, the political changes of which during the late eighties, early nineties, he followed with great interest.
The experiences of these travels inspired the novella »Az utolsó Ablakzsiráf« (1998; Eng. »The Last Window Giraffe«, 2007). In the book, which can be read as hyper text and has the appearance of a dictionary from a child’s point of view, Zilahy describes the story of his childhood, which stands as an example for his generation in the seventies and eighties. It is the story of everyday life during the period of change in the eastern European countries and a collection of anecdotes on the theme of political protest in the so-called »soft« dictatorships. The text is reminiscent of the representation of war in Joseph Heller’s »Catch 22«, however it does not deal with war but with the »craziness of everyday life in the eastern dictatorships«. In his novella, Zilahy, with alphabetical ordering and illustration of the text, represents the system of a dictionary. The individual passages appear to be in a coincidental order, in a net of photo montages, graphics, sounds, children’s book illustrations and the fluent text which, in the alphabetic register, is always being started and ended anew. But at the core of this montage, which transforms the linearity of reading into a vivid dive beneath the surface, is the game between the child’s perspective and the language clichés from the world of politics.

The project soon attracted a great deal of attention. Alongside the book, which is translated into eighteen languages, a CD ROM and a radio play version were produced. Zilahy also developed several performances which corresponded to the multi-layers of the novel. In 2000, the author received a scholarship from the German Foreign Ministry and, in 2001, the Prize of the Foundation Preußische Seehandlung. In the same year Péter Zilahy was a guest at the Literary Colloquium Berlin and received a scholarship in New York and in 2002 he was recipient of a scholarship in Schloß Wiepersdorf near Berlin.

Most recently, Zilahy published a collection entitled »Three plus 1« (2007) written in seven genres. In May 2007 his theatre play »Der lange Weg nach nebenan« was performed at Volksbühne, Berlin. Touring Germany it was also played in Leipzig, Stuttgart, Weimar and Düsseldorf. The author regularly publishes his essays in the »Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung«, in »Der Tagesspiegel« and in »Die Welt«.

© international literature festival berlin