Magda Szabó is a daughter of Debrecen, born and raised, she attended school here and graduated from the University of Debrecen in 1940 as a teacher of Latin and Hungarian. She began her life as a teacher at a protestant girl’s boarding school in Debrecen and then later worked for the Hungarian Government in the Ministry of Religion and Education.
Like all great works of literature, Magda Szabo’s story in part reflects her personal experience in life, in the case of the story, ’Abigail’ her youth, -growing up during the war is mirrored in her words and the experience of the character, as is her experience of a strict, religious boarding school environment she used to teach in.
Written in 1970, Abigail has since been turned into both a TV series and a musical. For non-Hungarians, reading this book is an instant ice breaker for relations with Hungarians, and is a window into the lives of Hungarians living under Nazi occupation.
The WWII era coming of age story Abigail is Magda Szabo’s most beloved book in Hungary. The story is about Abigail, a teenager both rebellious and headstrong and her experiences when she is dispatched to a strict religious boarding school in 1943 and growing up during the war.
As with any translation, this translation by Len Rix, while good, loses something of the style of writing of Magda Szabo but retains the suspense and tour de force making it a great read.
While internationally Abigail is not Magda Szabo’s most famous book (The Door was previously), it is her most popular work at home in Hungary, and is, therefore, a perfect read for when travelling to or from Hungary, as a gift or souvenir.
On the 100th anniversary of the birth of Magda Szabó, the Magda Szabó Memorial House was opened on (October 5, 2017) in the former school of the writer, Dóczy Gymnasium of the Reformed College of Debrecen.
In addition, since 2017 a festival has been held in her honour each year in Debrecen (1st-3rd October) to celebrate her life and works.
This translated version of Abigail published by NYRB Classics was recently reviewed (Jan 2020) in both the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.