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In praise of thought

Hungarian-born author Stephen Vizinczey was in Edinburgh for a reception to mark the new edition of his novel In Praise of Older Women and treated his audience to some brief but telling thoughts on writing.

The book, which created a furore when it was first published in 1965, is being republished as a Penguin Modern Classic. Vizinczey, described by one national newspaper editor at the reception as "the only real genius I have ever met" told his attentive audience that there has to be some joy in life and it is part of the author's purpose to create it.

This is a man who should know about the need for joy having seen his father killed by the Nazis and his friends shot and imprisoned by the Soviet troops who crushed the Hungarian Uprising of 1956.

It was his role in that uprising that meant he had to flee to the West where he started a new life with just a few words of English. Yet within a few years he had learned, like Conrad, to use the English language with a beauty and skill that far surpasses many who have spoken nothing else since birth.

His experience of totalitarianism has not left him without humour. "Ideology is for those who haven't the time to read," he once said.

But it was what he had to say about words and the way that they should be used that most strike home.
"The duty, the purpose of literature is to help us understand the difficult truths of life and help us to live with them," he believes.

What more needs to be said?

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