Abigail: Len Rix discusses translating Magda Szabó with Catherine Taylor – Tuesday 14th January, 7pm


Abigail is a cult coming-of-age novel by the multi-award winning author of The Door and Katalin Street. We are so pleased that the translator Len Rix will be joining us to discuss Abigail, Magda Szabó and Hungarian literature with writer, editor and critic Catherine Taylor.


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Of all her novels, Magda Szabó’s Abigail is the most widely read in her native Hungary.

Now, fifty years after it was written, it appears for the first time in English, joining Katalin Street and The Door in a loose trilogy about the impact of war on those who have to live with the consequences.

It is late 1943 and Hitler, exasperated by the slowness of his Hungarian ally to act on the “Jewish question” and alarmed by the weakness on his southern flank, is preparing to occupy the country. Foreseeing this, and concerned for his daughter’s safety, a Budapest father decides to send her to a boarding school away from the capital.

A lively, sophisticated, somewhat spoiled teenager, she is not impressed by the reasons she is given, and when the school turns out to be a fiercely Puritanical one in a provincial city a long way from home, she rebels outright. Her superior attitude offends her new classmates and things quickly turn sour.

It is the start of a long and bitter learning curve that will open her eyes to her arrogant blindness to other people’s true motives and feelings. Exposed for the first time to the realities of life for those less privileged than herself, and increasingly confronted by evidence of the more sinister purposes of the war, she learns lessons about the nature of loyalty, courage, sacrifice and love.

Catherine Taylor is the former deputy director of English PEN, a writer and editor, and critic for the Guardian, FT Life and Arts, New Statesman, The Economist and the TLS. She is commercial director of the not-for-profit culture quarterly the Brixton Review of Books and has judged several literary prizes, most recently the Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation 2019.