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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction


Utazás a tizenhatos mélyére

Esterházy Péter

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

Title: Utazás a tizenhatos mélyére
Author: Esterházy Péter
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2006
Length: 148 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: Deutschlandreise im Strafraum - Deutschland
  • Utazás a tizenhatos mélyére has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B+ : impromptu, but rich, enjoyable

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 7/6/2006 .
Die Welt . 4/2/2006 Holger Kreitling
Die Zeit . 8/6/2006 Peter Schneider

  From the Reviews:
  • "Eine Schlüsselstelle, denn das eigentliche Thema des Buches ist Geschichte. Der Fußball-Fan findet sie überall, wenn er über Schiedsrichter schreibt oder über Kellnerinnen und Speisekarten. Niemand kann sich von Geschichte lösen. Atemlos und ungeordnet jagt Esterházy über den Platz, springt hastig den Themen wie dem Ball hinterher, er leistet sich ein paar Schnitzer und viel zu viele Gedanken in Klammern, das erschwert den Zugang. Das Buch ist ein seltsames Gebilde, es liest sich ein bißchen wie eine Stoffsammlung für einen noch zu schreibenden Roman. Der Autor will sich selbst erklären, was ihm Fußball bedeutet." - Holger Kreitling, Die Welt

  • "Ich gebe zu, dass es mir nicht leicht fällt, mich dem Charme von Péter Esterházys kompromissloser Fußballschwärmerei zu entziehen. Dieses Kompliment kommt von einem Fußballmuffel." - Peter Schneider, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Utazás a tizenhatos mélyére is a casual piece, focussed on football (soccer), published shortly before the 2006 World Cup in Germany -- a book that probably wouldn't have come about if it weren't for that event. Esterházy got an assignment from the Süddeutsche Zeitung to travel and write about Germany, and the soccer pitch was an obvious attraction to the author, the players and fans a reflection of a nation. As it turns out, there's more navel-gazing than observation, but no matter: Esterházy is fleet of foot and pen, and offers very good entertainment.
       This book expands a bit on his newspaper assignment, describing his journey and his thoughts. More than a picture of the German present, however, it is a book about the past: Hungary's glorious footballing past (and that devastating 3:2 loss at the hands of Germany at the 1954 WC) and a much sadder present presence (they haven't even made it to the world championship round since 1986), and a world that has changed over these decades. Esterházy isn't interested in the big stadiums and the current Bundesliga or Champions League or international clashes: he's drawn back to places like the small-town pitch in the former GDR where he once played.
       Esterházy is both a fan and a player, and while he never made it beyond the regional league (fourth division) his brother was a bona fide star, capped some thirty times (and a 1986-WC participant), a pro who made good in the Greek league. Esterházy knows the joys of playing, but is awed by his few encounters with the truly great players, the ones who really could play the game: he's proud to admit that his horizon extends from Beckham to Balzac, Zidane to Flaubert. Repeatedly he contrasts the writer with the footballer (noting he was a footballer before he was an author), and this book -- written so deceptively easily and casually, roaming all over the field -- is clearly a pro at work. Writing is the métier at which he excels; football is something he's competent at (and loves dearly) but can't compete at anywhere near the highest level at.
       This is a book of a football fan, as well as a football player. His obsessiveness isn't on the same level as, say, Nick Hornby's in Fever Pitch, his love of the game more general (especially now that the Hungarian side isn't that good any longer), though still strongly nationalist. And so the book allows Esterházy to consider, among much else, the absurdity of nationalism -- especially when rooting for a team -- while he indulges in it too.
       It's also a book about lost glory, and simply about aging, revisiting a youth that can't quite be recaptured, watching players do what one's own tired legs no longer allow. Hungary's soccer glory peaked when he was small child, but in his own small (and his brother's bigger) successes he could still play out some of that former glory. For better and worse it is now a different world, and while he doesn't truly miss the days of Soviet domination, there is a strong sense of nostalgia: with the fall of the Wall, much of the world of his past collapsed. (And he does, at one point, imagine an alternate past and present -- if Hungary had won that match in 1954 .....)
       There are numerous encounters with people from that past, faces and players he doesn't really remember, the past flickering briefly alive in that weird, time-displaced way it can. (An amusing side-story is also his turning down an assignment for a cover-story about Heidi Klum, a name he, in turn, doesn't recognise (quite to his eventual dismay).)
       Utazás a tizenhatos mélyére is the work of a talented author, playing with the ease that comes with knowing what comes of it isn't do-or-die, like a creative midfielder trying out a variety of moves in a serious enough match (maybe the early round of a European championship or World Cup qualifying match -- important, but where a loss isn't critical). Esterházy isn't very focussed, but his stories are amusing and the telling is entirely professional -- like the dazzling and deceptive footwork of a footballer one can't take one's eyes off, even as he lazily makes his way up the pitch unmarked. The range of what he goes on about -- largely football-centred, but using that as a jumping-off point to often go very far -- is also impressive. Nothing too weighty, nothing plumbed to its very depths, but still thoughtful and thought-provoking and always engaging.
       It's all in that Central European tradition of Esterházy's beloved Hrabal (Huelle's Mercedes Benz is another example), the small or seemingly trivial presented so approachably in a roundabout way. This isn't a book of any special significance, but it's a great pleasure to read. This is casual literature as it should be.

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Utazás a tizenhatos mélyére: Reviews: Esterházy Péter: Other books by Esterházy Péter under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Hungarian author Esterházy Péter was born in 1950.

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© 2006-2011 the complete review

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