This is a Challenge: Ágota Kristóf: Okumaz Yazmaz (2023)

It’s the challenge of an illiterate man. I’ll tell you about a book of about fifty pages. In these fifty pages we witness the author’s whole life story. But it is such a story that the author addresses our hearts and conscience.

“I left my scrapbook with my coded writings and my first poems in Hungary. I left my brother, my parents behind without a word, without even a goodbye. But most of all, on that day, that late November day in 1956, I lost my belonging to a people once and for all.”

This autobiographical book leaves great traces on the reader with short sentences. Born in 1935 in Hungary, Ágota Kristóf‘s life adventure from the age of four to becoming a writer is accompanied by impressive sentences.

Ágota is a four-year-old child addicted to reading. After happy childhood days, his boarding school period begins. During his school years, he writes sketches and spends his breaks performing them to other students. His boarding school years are spent in loneliness like every child away from his family. Fourteen-year-old Ágota cries for his lost childhood. What saves him from that state and his subsequent experiences is his passion for writing and reading.

In World War 2, when the Germans occupied Hungary, our author was still a child. After the Germans lost the war, the Soviets entered Hungary. Hunger, misery and captivity were the sad end of the whole Hungarian people. After many years, our author is now married and has a four-month-old child. At this time, the socialist workers started an uprising to overthrow the regime, but this uprising was suppressed by Soviet soldiers. In this situation, the author’s wife has a political ban and it is dangerous for her to stay in the country. And they decide to flee.

The painful asylum process, a four-month-old baby, a twenty-one-year-old young woman…

“What would my life have been like if I had not left my country? More difficult, poorer, I guess, but less lonely, less fragmented, happy, maybe. One thing I am sure of is that I would still be writing, wherever and in whatever language.”

Establishing a new life in Switzerland, Ágota works in a factory and starts to learn French at the same time. His passion for writing never leaves him. He writes poetry inspired by the rattling of the machines in the factory. He writes theatre plays and reads non-stop. He never gives up his dream of becoming a writer. During the process of learning French, he had great difficulty, but he did not give up his endeavour. He is now the author of many works translated from French into Turkish and many other languages.

In “Okumaz Yazmaz” (The Illiterate) we read this process painfully. The work was published in November 2023, that is, very fresh. In my opinion, this work, which met with the reader thanks to Can Yayınları, should be read deeply by young writers and anyone who is eager to write.

I am someone who writes in my own way and hopes to become a writer in the future. Although I despair most of the time, my passion for writing cannot keep me away from writing for a moment. Is it a miracle that I came across this book in the days when I thought I would never be a good writer, maybe I would never have any readers?

Although Ágota was convinced that he could not write French as well as native French writers, he rebelled like a revolutionary. Fate, coincidence and circumstances somehow forced him to write in French. Even though it was very difficult, she never gave up. A woman can do anything if she wants to. I finished the book with tears flowing from my eyes.

Enjoy your reading.



Year of First Edition: 2023
Book Title: Okumaz Yazmaz
Original Title: The Illiterate
Genre: Narrative
Author: Ágota Kristóf
Translation: Feyza Zaim
Publisher: Can Yayınları
Array: Modern
Page Count: 48