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Last Updated on March 17, 2024 by Jella Erhard

Explore fascinating Hungarian books you should read before you visit or if you’re interested in Hungarian history and culture. Read some of the most impactful and popular books set in Hungary by international and beloved Hungarian writers.

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best Hungarian books

Fancy getting under the skin of Hungary before your next adventure there? I’m all in for soaking up the culture, history, and the vibe of the people through their incredible stories and poems.

Diving into Hungarian literature isn’t just about prepping for your trip, it’s like unlocking a secret door to the heart and soul of this central European gem. Imagine wandering the streets of Budapest, each corner whispering tales from the past, and every dish telling its own story. Pretty cool, right?

Chatting up locals and dropping a line from a beloved Hungarian poet? Priceless. And, if you’re tossing around the idea of making Hungary your new home, getting to grips with a few books could be your golden ticket.

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Hungary’s literary scene is vibrant and deeply woven into the fabric of everyday life. Picture this: chatting away with new Hungarian friends, bonding over shared knowledge of their literary heroes. Pretty sure that’s the fast track to becoming the coolest person in the room.

So, whether it’s making a connection or simply enriching your travel experience, delving into Hungarian books is a win-win. Ready to explore Hungary through the eyes of its storied authors? Let’s turn the page together!

Hungarian Books About Hungarian Culture & History

13| Budapest: A Cultural History by Bob Dent

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Bob Dent, our British transplant who’s been calling Hungary home since the late ’80s, is pretty much the go-to guy for getting the inside scoop on Budapest. His book, Budapest: A Cultural History, isn’t your run-of-the-mill travel guide. Oh no, it’s a deep dive into the heart and soul of this mesmerizing city, from its historical streets to its vibrant, beating heart today.

If you’re daydreaming about wandering through Budapest or even making a bold move to settle there, Bob’s insights are like finding a rare, old map that leads to hidden treasures. He’s got stories on everything, think music trends that’ll make you wanna dance in the streets and historical tidbits that show how this city came to be so captivating.

What’s special about Bob’s take is that it’s all seen through the eyes of someone who wasn’t born into the tapestry of Hungary but has woven himself into it over decades.

In a sea of books about Budapest and Hungary, Budapest: A Cultural History stands out. It’s for those of us who crave more than just a surface scratch, offering a glimpse into what really makes Budapest tick, all penned by a man who’s as passionate about literature as he is about his adopted home.

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12| Miklós Radnóti: The Complete Poetry in Hungarian and English

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Miklós Radnóti, Hungary’s heart-on-sleeve poet, managed to craft beauty amidst the bleakest of times. His poetry, a testament to resilience and undying love for his homeland, dances between hope and despair, with a grace that’s both moving and powerful.

As the shadows of fascism stretched over Europe, Radnóti penned his thoughts, fully aware of the storm that was coming his way.

Yet, through his verses, you don’t just hear the echo of melancholy; you find a man who, despite staring into the abyss, could still see the beauty of Hungary and hold it dear.

His famous poem, “I cannot know…,” is a love letter to his country, a blend of patriotism and profound personal reflection that resonates deeply with many Hungarians even today.

Radnóti’s work is like a bridge over troubled waters, connecting past and present with lines that tug at your heartstrings. His collection, especially those final poems scribbled in the shadow of his impending fate, showcases a spirit unbroken by the cruelties he faced.

Reading Radnóti is not just an encounter with the past; it’s an invitation to feel, deeply and truly, the enduring spirit of Hungary. His legacy is a reminder that even in the darkest times, there can be light, beauty, and love for one’s country.

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11| Infamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsébet Báthory by Kimberly L. Craft

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If the whole Dracula vibe has you hooked and you’re itching for more of history’s dark tales, you might want to buckle up for Kimberly L. Craft’s Infamous Lady.

This isn’t your everyday history read. It’s a deep dive into the life of Countess Erzsébet Báthory, often dubbed the most notorious female serial killer ever. The lady allegedly offed 650 people, earning her a rather grim spot in the Guinness World Records. And let’s be honest, it’s a record we’re all fine with leaving untouched.

Infamous Lady isn’t just a recount of a twisted noble’s life; it’s a portal to the eerie, aristocratic underbelly of 16th-17th century Hungary. Here, the lines between nobility and nightmare blur in a tale so gripping it’s hard to put down.

So, if you’re ready to be both enthralled and horrified, Craft’s meticulous research and compelling storytelling in Infamous Lady promises a journey into the past that’s as enlightening as it is chilling.

10| The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

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Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge takes you on a whirlwind trip to Hungary during World War II. You’re right there with András Lévi, hitting the cobblestone streets of Paris before finding yourself wrapped up in the unfolding drama back in Budapest and the hauntingly beautiful Hungarian countryside.

Orringer’s magic? She makes history feel alive, letting you weigh every ounce of love, loss, and the desperate fight to make it through one of history’s darkest chapters.

The book lays bare the deep scars WWII left on Hungary and its people, serving as a vivid reminder of the war’s lasting shadows.

For anyone diving into Hungarian history or just looking for a story that grabs you by the heart and doesn’t let go, The Invisible Bridge is more than a history lesson; it’s an emotional journey. Orringer doesn’t just tell you about the past but pulls you in, making you feel every bit of the love and loss experienced by those who lived through these tumultuous times.

9| Csardas by Diane Pearson

Explore fascinating Hungarian Books you should read before you visit Hungary. Read books set in Hungary by Hungarian writers and international writers.

Get Your Copy HERE

Diane Pearson’s Csardas is a portal to Hungary’s tumultuous past, seen through the lives of the Ferenc sisters as they navigate the upheaval of wars and political shifts that reshaped their country.

Pearson, with her astute storytelling, brings the struggles, dreams, and resilience of these women to life against the backdrop of Hungary’s most trying times.

This book does more than just tell a story, it immerses you in Hungary’s rich history and culture, from the vibrancy of the csardas dance to the grim shadows of war and the oppressive years that followed.

Pearson masterfully balances the beauty of Hungarian traditions with the harsh realities of its 20th-century history, making Csardas a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the soul of Hungary.

As you follow the journey of the Ferenc sisters, you’re not just reading about history, you’re feeling it, living it. And through their eyes, you’ll witness the endurance of the human spirit amid adversity.

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8| A Journey Round My Skull by Frigyes Karinthy

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Frigyes Karinthy, a name synonymous with Hungarian literary genius, had the knack for capturing the zeitgeist of early 20th-century Hungary with wit and wisdom. From the tender age of 15, Karinthy was not just writing; he was enchanting readers across genres, earning instant applause for his humorous takes, sharp parodies, and affectionate caricatures of his literary contemporaries.

Journey Round My Skull isn’t just another title in his illustrious bibliography; it’s a personal odyssey into the mind of a man confronted by his own mortality.

Imagine laughing one moment and navigating the eerie corridors of your psyche the next—that’s Karinthy, leading you through his surreal experiences of bizarre hallucinations and the harrowing journey of diagnosing his own brain tumor.

What sets this book apart is how Karinthy’s narrative transcends the personal, offering us a lens into the Hungarian soul of his time, all while seated on the edge of a surgical table in Sweden.

7| Celestial Harmonies by Péter Esterházy

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Dive into Celestial Harmonies and you’re not just reading a book, you’re embarking on a whirlwind tour through Hungary’s opulent past with Péter Esterházy, a maestro of words whose own roots are as entangled with the country’s history as the vines on an old castle wall.

Imagine flipping through a family album, but instead of photos, each page bursts with stories of love, intrigue, and the odd skeletons that every noble family keeps in its closets.

Esterházy weaves a tapestry so rich, you can almost hear the clink of swords and the whispers in the corridors of those palaces his ancestors built, yep, the very ones you can now wander through, feeling a bit like you’ve stepped into the pages of history.

And what pages they are! Péter doesn’t just give you dry facts; he serves them up with a generous dollop of personal anecdotes and reflections, making the past pulse with life.

With Celestial Harmonies, you’re not just learning about the Esterházy family or Hungary; you’re being let into a secret world where every chapter turns you from a reader into a time traveler. So, ready for an adventure? Péter Esterházy is about to show you Hungary like you’ve never seen it before.

6| Budapest 1900 by John Lukacs

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John Lukacs, that American-Hungarian historian with a knack for storytelling, pulls off something special with his take on Budapest around the 1900s. It’s not just another history book but more like a backstage pass to the literary scene that put Budapest on the map.

Lukacs’s work is a shout-out to the big names of Hungarian literature, the ones whose genius crafted the cultural vibe of Budapest we celebrate today. Ever wonder why Budapest feels like a living poem or why its theaters and books have that unique flavor? 

Reading this book is like unlocking a secret door to Budapest’s past.  You’re not just a tourist; you’re in on the city’s secrets, ready to catch all the nods to its rich literary tradition.

So, if you’re hitting up Budapest, giving Lukacs a read could turn your visit from standard sightseeing into an epic cultural adventure.

5| Embers by Sándor Márai

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Don’t let the heavy vibes of Embers scare you off. Sándor Márai dishes out an elegantly haunting tale that’s as much about the past as it is about our own reflections.

It’s deep, sure, but wrapped in such masterful storytelling you’ll forget you’re actually getting schooled on life, love, and the art of holding a grudge. Márai, with the finesse of a seasoned chef, serves a gourmet narrative that’s both a brain tickler and surprisingly heartwarming.

​Yet, despite the physical distance from his homeland and the alienation from a government that once turned its back on him, Márai’s spirit remained unbroken, his pen, mightier than ever.

Embers, or A gyertyák Csonkig égnek as it’s originally titled, stands as perhaps his most monumental work. This narrative, while steeped in a certain melancholy, shines with the undeniable brilliance of Márai’s understanding of the human condition—our hopes, regrets, and the unspoken bonds that define us.

To dive into Embers is to walk alongside Márai through the complexities of the heart and mind.

4| The Paul Street Boys by Ferenc Molnár

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Ferenc Molnár’s The Paul Street Boys isn’t just a trip down memory lane; it’s a full-blown time machine back to a Budapest brimming with the adventures of youth and the timeless battle over a piece of land known as the “grund.”

It’s the kind of story that sticks with you, partly because it’s on every young reader’s school list in Hungary, but mostly because Molnár captures the essence of childhood with such authenticity and heart.

Now, if you’ve ever dreamed of wandering through Budapest, this book is like your secret map to the past.

Sure, Budapest has changed a ton since Molnár’s days, but there’s something magical about walking the same streets that the boys from the story roamed. Stumble upon Pál Street today, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped right into their adventures.

The heart of the story? A bunch of kids going all out to defend their precious “grund” – this empty lot that’s their kingdom, their playground. It’s where the real action happens.

And it’s not just about the dust-ups and the drama; it’s deeper than that. Molnár nails what it means to be a friend, to have someone’s back, and what it takes to stand up for what you believe in.

The Paul Street Boys is timeless – not just a young adult book but a story that packs a punch about bravery, loyalty, and love, all set against the backdrop of a Budapest that still whispers tales of the past.

3| Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb

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Antal Szerb’s life took a dark turn, ending in tragedy, but his books? They’re a whole different story, literally lighting up the literary world. Take Journey by Moonlight for instance. It’s not just any novel; it’s like Szerb poured all his wanderlust and deep thoughts into it, making it a must-read for anyone who’s ever felt a bit lost.

So, there’s Mihály, right? He’s on his honeymoon in Italy, which sounds dreamy, except he’s more haunted by his past than excited about his future with Erzsi, his wife.

This book takes you through the streets of Italy, sure, but it’s really all about Mihály’s inner journey. He’s wrestling with who he is and the kind of life he wants, which, let’s be honest, is something a lot of us can relate to.

What’s cool about Szerb is that he throws in bits of his own life into Mihály’s story, making it feel all the more real.

It’s like he’s saying, “Hey, it’s okay to question things, to feel out of place sometimes.” Journey by Moonlight is more than just a story about a guy questioning his marriage; it’s a road trip through the self, dotted with the scenic views of Italy and the bumpy roads of personal discovery.

For anyone who’s ever felt a bit like they’re still finding their way, this book is like having a chat with a friend who’s been there, done that, and got the postcard to prove it. It’s a gentle nudge to explore not just the world but yourself too.

2| The Door by Magda Szabó

Explore fascinating Hungarian Books you should read before you visit Hungary. Read books set in Hungary by Hungarian writers and international writers.

Get Your Copy HERE

Magda Szabó was a legend, rocking the literary world right up into her 90s. Her stuff? Pure gold. Her books flew off shelves into 42 countries and got love in over 30 languages. And when The Door hit the New York Times top 10, well, that was just icing on the cake.

Imagine the deepest, most complex friendship story you can. It’s about opening up, really seeing people for who they are, and the whole mess that comes with real connection.

The story kicks off when Magda decides she needs a housekeeper. Enter Emerenc, this super private, kinda mysterious lady who’s got her own way of doing things. Magda’s cool with it because, hey, work’s getting done. But Emerenc? She’s got layers. Like, never let anyone into her apartment levels of secretive.

Tragedy hits, and these two, from different worlds, find this unlikely bond. Magda even gets invited into the fortress that is Emerenc’s flat. Then, disaster. Emerenc gets sick, and Magda, trying to help, accidentally spills the beans on Emerenc’s private life. Things go south fast, and Magda’s left with this heavy guilt.

The Door is all about what a true friendship can endure, the spaces between us, and the doors we dare to open. Whether you’re heading to Hungary or just couch-surfing, this story’s a must-read. Trust me, it’s a heart-twister.

1| Fatelessness Novel by Imre Kertész

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Imre Kertész won the Nobel Prize for Fatelessness, a gripping account rooted in his own experiences. The novel takes us through the eyes of Gyuri, a 15-year-old Jewish boy navigating the horrors of Auschwitz and the alienation of returning to a changed Budapest.

One day, Gyuri’s just a kid trying to help his family out, and the next, he’s on a train to Auschwitz. But here’s the thing—Gyuri’s tale isn’t just about survival. It’s about finding bits of yourself in places you’d never think to look, and about coming back to a world that’s moved on without you.

Returning to Budapest after the camps, Gyuri feels like an alien in his own city. Everything’s changed, and so has he. This part hits hard because it’s not just Gyuri’s story, it’s a slice of what Kertész went through too. The guy lived it, breathed it, and then had the guts to write it down.

Reading Fatelessness is like taking a deep dive into not just Hungarian history, but human resilience. Kertész doesn’t just lay out what happened; he makes you feel it, question it, and carry a bit of it with you.

Thank you for reading!