Réka Mán-Várhegyi’s story “Woman Striker Has Killer Left Foot,” translated by Owen Good, was performed as a part of WWB’s Selected Shorts event at Symphony Space on Wednesday, February 27. We spoke with Mán-Várhegyi about her inspirations, the writers she admires, and the themes she explores in her work.
What inspired you to become a writer and what inspires your writing today? Has your relationship to your work changed over time?
As a kid I thought I had a natural talent for cutting hair since my mother was a hairdresser, and I believed I was very good at repairing things since my father was a repairman. I also just thought I had this remarkable aptitude for fabricating stories, because my grandmother used to tell me a lot of fairy tales and, being a kindergarten teacher, she knew many of them. I find it amusing to think that it was self-evident to me—as it is for most kids, I guess—that not only my face and my body but also my talents were inherited from my parents and grandparents, only at the time I didn’t think of it as the burden that it can be.
Nowadays I just write because I love good literature; when I read something good, I feel the urge to write.
Do you feel that you’re writing within (or against) a specific cultural or linguistic tradition? What authors or works that have influenced you?
I am very much influenced by postmodern literary theory and feminist criticism, which has its consequences of course. For example, I don’t believe in realism, as I don’t see words as transparent tools to tell a story. I try to have a conscious relationship with language and with the possible meanings, suggestions, or ideologies of a text.
A lot of authors inspire me. To name a few: Virginia Woolf and Thomas Mann, and contemporaries like Chris Kraus or László Krasznahorkai.
In your work, do you find that you return to particular ideas or themes?
I think many of my characters are intellectuals who try to improve and grow in different ways, but they experience difficulties, and in many cases they unconsciously put obstacles in their own way.
Are there other contemporary writers from Hungary who you wish more people were reading?
From my generation my favorites are Edina Szvoren and Imre Bartók. Their prose is wise and rich, with perplexing ideas and grotesque humor. Szvoren writes short stories, Bartók writes novels. Unfortunately, their books are not yet available in English—hopefully they will be.
Your story “Woman Striker Has Killer Left Foot”, which appeared in Words Without Borders, has an incredible hook—it is impossible not to be drawn in by the opening line. What was the nugget of that story?
Some friends of mine were regularly playing soccer at the city park and one day I went to play with them. I played badly, of course, but that was no surprise for anybody, since nobody expects women to know how to play soccer. I imagined how surprised my teammates would have been if I had played as well as them. And what if I played even better than that? I found the idea fascinating, so I thought I should write a story around it.
Réka Mán-Várhegyi (1979) spent her childhood in Târgu Mureș, Romania, and now lives in Budapest, working as editor at a children’s book publisher. Her first collection of short stories, Boldogtalanság az Auróra-telepen (Unhappiness at the Aurora Housing Estate, 2014) was hailed as a remarkably mature debut. Besides that collection, Mán-Várhegyi has five children’s books and a book for young adults to her name, as well as a novel, Magnetic Hill (2018).
Read interviews with Yalçın Tosun and Évelyne Trouillot, whose stories were also featured at WWB’s Selected Shorts event