Airport Bookstore Success Stories: Kite Runner and Pendragon Legend

Airport bookstores are usually heavy on Brown and Crichton, so there is no risk to mistake them for beacons of literature. Still, I end up in these book stores (in particular when I’m out of reading material for a particular trip), and often get d…

Airport bookstores are usually heavy on Brown and Crichton, so there is no risk to mistake them for beacons of literature. Still, I end up in these book stores (in particular when I’m out of reading material for a particular trip), and often get desperate.Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised by my latest two rounds of airport book shopping.In Schiphol, I bought Khaled Hosseini‘s Kite Runner, which I had seen recommended. The story takes up all the classical motives: Betrayal between fathers and sons and among friends and brothers, masters and servants; the quest for redemption that leads to more tragedy; exile; love; foreign countries and countries that become foreign. The background for that is Afghanistan from the 1970s (where a seemingly untroubled childhood ends suddenly) through today; Kabul’s upper class back then (where unwritten rules lead to cruel lies) and the Afghani exile community in the US (where links within that community provide help when Western society turns into inhumane bureaucracy). The novel is brilliantly written and thought-provoking; go read it if you haven’t.In Budapest, I stumbled over a shelf dedicated to Hungarian authors. There, I found Antal Szerb‘s 1934 “Pendragon Legend”, which has recently come out in a new English translation. That novel tells of a Hungarian private scholar in early 1930s London, who spends an inherited fortune to fund a life spent on research in libraries. Jan�s B�tky, as that apparently autobiographic hero is called, is drawn into the somewhat mystifying family history of certain Welsh earls, and soon finds himself in the middle of a maelstrom of alchemy, Rosacrucians, old Welsh legends, (courtly?) love for the Lady of the Castle, and temptations of all kinds; not to forget nightly expeditions to haunted lakes, castles, and forests. On its surface, this novel is a bit detective story and a bit mystic thriller – but it doesn’t take itself seriously; instead, Szerb gives a uniquely ironic rendering of his motives, of the genres he takes up, and of his characters. A thoroughly enjoyable read.