Volume X, Number 2, Fall 2014

"Review of Hungarian-American Ties – Essays and Studies in Intercultural Links and Contacts edited by Zsolt K. Virágos" by Emma Bálint

Emma Bálint is a PhD student at the Institute of English and American Studies, University of Szeged. Her research interests include American cinema, fairy tale studies and adaptation studies. Email:

Hungarian-American Ties. Essays and Studies in Intercultural Links and Contacts
Edited by Zsolt K. Virágos
Debrecen: Debrecen UP, 2013.
418 pp.
ISBN: 978-963-318-420-2

In his Preface, Zsolt K. Virágos, the editor of Hungarian-American Ties – Essays and Studies in Intercultural Links and Contacts, expressed his intent to provide a specialized textbook in the form of this collection, primarily for students of American Studies in Hungary. The wide range of historical, political and cultural aspects of the two countries’ and their peoples’ relations that have been incorporated into the anthology, however, make the volume at once both informative but also a bit difficult to grasp. A previous article of the editor (“Some Observations on Hungarian-American Ties and Contacts” published in the first issue of The Round Table in 2008), has already called attention to the need for such a collection. Unfortunately, neither the list of publications dealing with Hungarian-American relations nor the inspiring suggested topics mentioned in the essay were included in this book. In this book, twenty-seven acclaimed Hungarian and American academics provided twenty-six English-language contributions; twenty-two of which are indicated to be original works. Instead of a general overview of the most fundamental past and present points of connections between Hungarians and Americans, these articles, essays, studies and occasional book reviews aspire to address very specific and particular topics within the respective fields of research or professions of each of their authors.

László Országh, the late professor of the University of Debrecen who had founded American Studies in Hungary, recounts the origin-narrative of the Hungarian name of the U.S. in the opening essay of this book titled “The Genesis of the Hungarian Name of the United States of America.” This brief but essential article, derived from a Hungarian study written in 1974, gives a concise account of the most significant historical momentums, “the peculiar historical circumstances” (13) and the conceptual and ideological discrepancies between the U.S. and Austro-Hungary from the early 19th century up to the 1920s, thus demarcating both the earliest links and the first differences of opinion between the two nations. The article written by scholar and diplomat Tamás Magyarics titled “U.S.–Hungarian Diplomatic Relations, 1957–1967” provides a simultaneous overview of the histories of the two countries within the indicated time period, which the author deems the most “formative years in the bilateral relations between” the then Hungarian People’s Republic and the United States of America (17). The discussion extends to ideological issues and trade relations, and includes an impressive and thorough account of the relevant dates and names of persons and organizations. The following essay by Huba Brückner, Director Emeritus of the Fulbright Commission, describes the history of a different form of maintaining diplomatic relations primarily in the form of academic exchange programs between Hungary and the U.S. in “J. William Fulbright and the Fulbright Program in Hungary, 1978–2004.” Although the article focuses on the founding of the program and does not contain any information on the commission’s projects from the past decade, the publication of this anthology was also made possible by the joint financial supports of the Hungarian-American Fulbright Commission and the Universitas Foundation.

Julianna Puskás’s “Changes in the Old-Country Ties of an American–Hungarian Fraternal Association (1886-1986)” assesses the history and the impact of the largest Hungarian fraternity in the U.S., the Verhovay Assocation, today known as the William Penn Association, on the process of Americanization and on the endeavors of the older generations of immigrants to maintain their and their offspring’s Hungarian identity and heritage. Puskás’s very clear, compact and informative study set against the historical backdrop of both Hungary and the U.S. is followed by “Transplanted Villagers: Social Networks in Overseas Emigration from Hungary in the Early 20th Century” by József Gellén’s brief and somewhat undirected paper presents the only sociological research in this collection, which deals with the geographical origin and gender distribution of Hungarian immigrants to America between 1898 and 1925, and aims to determine the relevance of social ties in the migratory patterns of Hungarians based on Roman Catholic and Calvinist Reformed marriage records.

The following three articles discuss Lajos Kossuth’s 1851-1852 tour of America from various perspectives. Kenneth E. Nyirady briefly describes the story of the Feleky (currently located in the Library of Congress, Washington, DC) and the Vasváry collections (Somogyi Library, Szeged) in “The Impact of Lajos Kossuth on Collections of Hungarica in the United States.” The indirect connection between the Hungarian-born Feleky and Kossuth forms the basis of the article, referring to the fact that the oldest documents of Charles Feleky’s collection deal with Lajos Kossuth’s diplomatic visit to America. Nyirady’s second article, “The Visit of Lajos Kossuth to the United States Through the Eyes of Frederick Douglass,” discusses Kossuth’s tour of the U.S. from an American point of view. Kossuth was hoping that by not taking a stand on the question of slavery, he would avoid making enemies, and thus further his own mission, but, as contemporary newspaper articles demonstrate, Douglass and other abolitionists saw through him. Inserted between these two studies by Nyirady, which, surprisingly enough, use different citation styles, is Christina R. H. Rusnik’s essay titled “Kossuth in America: Concerning the Hungarian–American Invasion of Haiti, 1852.” In her study, Rusnik carries out a detailed and informative scrutiny of Kossuth’s tour also from the Americans’ perspective, with a focus on the results and outcomes of Kossuth’s “absurd decisions” (119).

Tibor Frank’s, Tibor Glant’s and Éva Mathey’s articles describe various connections between Austro-Hungary and the U.S. “’For the Information of the President:’ The U.S. Government Surveillance of Austro-Hungarian Emigration (1891-1907)” is a truly intriguing article, which discusses the American interests in exploring the reasons behind immigration from Europe around the turn of the 19th century. According to Frank, immigration inspectors were content with the people of Hungary around the 1890s, but this attitude changed by the 1900s as the number of immigrants grew steadily, and Hungarians, along with other Eastern European immigrants, began to be compared to colonists, who would greedily exploit the New World. Glant’s “Woodrow Wilson and Austria–Hungary: A New Look” probes the 28th U.S. president’s non-interventionist political approach, with a special focus on America’s role in the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary in the aftermath of the Second World War. While Glant argues that “[t]he American acceptance of dismemberment […] did not mean consent to regional disintegration” (183), Mathey asserts that the Hungarians’ expectation for the U.S. to initiate a revision of the Treaty of Trianon was illusory and unfounded in “The Revision of the Treaty of Trianon: The Unfounded Political Aspiration of Hungary Concerning the United States.”

István Kornél Vida and Balázs Venkovits investigate the functions of emigrant information literature in “Strange New Wor(l)ds: English Language Books for Hungarian New Immigrants; With Two Case Studies.” The first part of the study compares the booklets published by American companies that aimed to promote American ideologies and culture with the Hungarian-published booklets that were meant to encourage the building of Hungarian communities in the New World. In order to illustrate this opposition, the case studies review two books, one by Béla Green and one by Ignácz Róth, published in America and in Hungary, respectively. Vida’s and Venkovits’s analysis is followed by Elemér Bakó’s essay “Francis Rákóczi II and His Struggles for Hungarian Freedom and Independence as Reflected in The Boston News-Letter,” another example of an extensive review of primary sources.

In “’I am a Vi = = = = olerplayer’: Pound and Serly in the Early 1930s,” György Novák considers Ezra Pound’s relationship with Hungarian musicians, and even corrects a few frequently made errors in Pound’s biographies in connection with Serly. This comprehensive study is preceded by ”Loyalty and Estrangement: Joseph Pulitzer’s Hungarian Connections,” a biography of a self-made Hungarian man, who, according to András Csillag, loved, respected, and even advocated Hungarian (high) culture, but, paradoxically, did not display it in public, because he wanted to assimilate completely into the New World. Novák’s essay is followed by another article on the personal life of an author. “Mikszáth and Roosevelt” by Zsolt K. Virágos, the updated version of an essay originally published in 2012, aims to shed light on a mysterious meeting between Kálmán Mikszáth and Theodor Roosevelt—in the article simply denoted as “TR”—in Budapest, 1910. The essay deals with cultural and language barriers, as well as underlying political issues. Interestingly enough, it is structured similarly to a detective story, the aim of which is to find out who could have leaked the two participants’ very brief and unpleasant discussion of the Austro-Hungarian emperor.

Erika Mikó’s, Andrew Ludanyi’s, Mario Fenyo’s and Kent Bales’s studies form a cluster of politics- and popular culture-related articles within the volume. “The Cacography of Capitalism: The Soundscape of New York City in Előd Juhász’s Amerikai változatok” by Mikó provides a short review of Juhász’s travel book from a political-historical point of view that considers musical, temporal as well as spatial aspects, and is primarily based on R. Murray Schafer’s 1969 book on soundscapes. In “The Fragmented Demographic Profile of Hungarian–American Society and Its Effects on Lobbying Efforts at Century’s Beginning,” Ludanyi briefly overviews the events leading up to the foundation of the Hungarian American Coalition, and attempts to explain why Hungarians should participate in American politics. Fenyo’s “The Good Name of Hungary–Enhanced by Béla Király” is a very subjective and personal biography that illustrates that even a man in exile must keep in mind to represent and depict his home state in a good light. Finally, “Assimilating Liliom: Carousel and the Making of Yet Another American” by Bales discusses the performance history and provides a comparative analysis of the Americanized and the original versions of Ferenc Molnár’s Liliom. In the process of adaptation, the play has been simplified, adapted to the different social structure and changed to the extent that in the end, Carousel became known as the innovative musical of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II that is hardly known by or popular among Hungarian theatre-goers.

The next two studies discuss the reception of early American literature in Hungary. In “England and New England in 17th–Century Hungarian Religious Texts,” Éva Petrőczi focuses on references to British Puritan literature in Hungarian historical documents, including books and letters, while Lehel Vadon’s article titled “The Hungarian Reception of American Literature of the Colonial Period” deals with early American Puritan works and their translations into Hungarian. Vadon emphasizes the writings of Captain John Smith, Roger Williams and Increase Mather, and also includes their personal experiences visiting or learning about Hungary. These historical texts, in fact, designate some of the earliest connections between the two countries, and certainly the earliest ones that are included in this anthology.

“Postmodern Picaresque at Century’s Turn: Travels to Soapland in the United States and Hungary” by Gabriella Varró and Katalin Lustyik is an extensive study on media studies and soap operas on the basis of cross-cultural reception theories. The study asserts that television soap operas include certain cultural and political information that make them worthy of scholarly research and that contemporary viewers are also significant as they are active “interpreters and shapers of” these specific forms of cultural expression (357). Although all the secondary sources date back to the 1990s, the study remains very relevant, interesting and well-structured.

Pál Lieli’s article titled “British and American Participation at the International Summer School of the University of Debrecen Before World War Two” overviews the English-speaking participants and lecturers, as well as certain lectures and press releases concerning the Debrecen conference’s events between 1927 and 1940, using “documents of the most various genres” found in the Manuscripts Archive of the University Library (370). Lenke M. Németh, in “Bridges Over Past and Present: Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge,” provides a review of a semi-biographical novel, which consists of an even mixture of fact and fiction, resulting from the author’s desire to reconnect with her Hungarian ancestors. Orringer pinpoints humor as a coping mechanism of Jewish people during the Second World War, and concludes with how European immigrants, such as her own grandparents, contributed to the shaping of America. Lastly, “The Road Taken: Reflections of a Sometime Cultural Attaché” by John Jablonski is about the author’s experiences of working as a Cultural Affairs Officer in Hungary, during which he focused on the development of education, and also partly contributed to the founding of the Fulbright Commission. Jablonski describes a more personal aspect of Hungarian-American relations and relationships, and provides an inspiring conclusion for the anthology.

Reviewing a collection of essays and studies written by various authors is certainly a difficult task, primarily due to the array of topics and perspectives. Although there are occasional overlaps between the themes of the essays, as the sometimes strained pairings of this review also demonstrate, there is no organizational principle bridging over all or groups of the components of this anthology. A temporal or thematic ordering or at least a detailed index would have been essential in order to facilitate navigation among the texts. Moreover, the use of a mixture of the MLA and Chicago citation styles—to which the editor even draws attention to in his Preface (11)—also turns the identification of bibliographical entries and quotations—for example, Országh’s and Bakó’s texts have no footnotes, endnotes or works cited, and the two studies by Nyirady use completely different citation styles—and a continuous reading of the volume into somewhat of a challenge. The numerous typographical and structural errors also stain some texts. Many essays, such as Fenyő’s or Puskás’s, use the English and Hungarian spellings of names interchangeably, or simply misspell certain names, such as ”Ekchard,” “Echhardt,” and “Eckhardt” for Tibor Eckhardt, appearing within page 95. Other structural errors include almost page-long quotations without indentation in, for example, Bakó’s essay, the inclusion of a paragraph within a quotation on page 286 in Virágos’s study, the reprinting of the same sentence in the footnotes twice within page 98 in Puskás’s essay, to only name a few. These errors in both style and structuring are, unfortunately, quite prominent, as they can easily be noticed even by university students, who, according to the editor, are the main target audience of the volume. In addition, some of the contributions are not only brief, but lack a definitive purpose or conclusion, as, for example, Gellén’s study that includes illustrations, a long list of works cited and only about three pages of the actual study. What is more, a number of articles have been previously published and this volume does not state any proper acknowledgment or brief note about their prior publications; such texts are, for example, György Novák’s 2006 article on Pound previously published in AMERICANA e-Journal of American Studies in Hungary (http://primus.arts.u-szeged.hu/american/americana/volIIno1/novak.htm), András Csillag’s 2008 article on Pulitzer published in the same journal (http://americanaejournal.hu/vol4no2/csillag ―with minor changes in the print edition), Mario Fenyo’s article on the obituary of Béla Király previously published in the 2009 Hungarian Studies Review (with minor changes here).

As Virágos wrote in the Preface of this volume, these “spin-offs of transcultural issues and themes” (7) between the U.S. and Hungary present indeed good points for further research, as well as for new investigations and explorations for those interested in the given fields; this was probably the reason why more fundamental elements bridging Hungarian and American cultures have been discarded in favor of other topics with more dispersed specialized interests. Despite its stylistic and editorial flaws, the essays of this heterogenous volume do provide useful information for students interested in the field of American Studies.