5 – Jessica Keener

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Jessica Keener, Video-lecture 27 March:
After reading the first section (p. 1-25) and (p. 25-28) of Strangers in Budapest, prepare a few questions (2-4 posted here below would be fine) that you would like to ask Jessica Keener.

  • Is there an autobiographical dimension to Strangers in Budapest? Describe your experiences in Hungary. 
  • How does use of a foreign setting shape your creative process? 
  • What emotions does Budapest evoke in your imagination?
  • Are there emotions available in Budapest that you do not find elsewhere?
  • Why would Americans be so captivated by Budapest? (Did you have this in mind when you wrote Strangers in Budapest?)
  • Describe the construction of “I” when a character is in a foreign setting.
  • Hemingway said of his time in France, ‘I do not know what I thought Paris would be like but it was not that way.’ Have you experienced similar sentiments? Is the reality of Budapest been different than popular images?

(FYI: The images of the book seem more readable in a browser window than an image program.)


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11 thoughts on “5 – Jessica Keener

  1. – Budapest is usually portrayed as a grey/dark and cold in films. What made you start your novel in the middle of a heatwave in the summer (that is also very typical in real life)?
    – What is your personal favorite spot in Budapest that made it into the novel, and what is one that did not?
    – You set your novel in the 8th month of your main character’s stay in Hungary. Was there a reason behind choosing this point of the immigrant experience?

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  2. – Is there a reason behind the somewhat vague place descriptions (e.g. Károly street, “down by the river”, etc.)?
    – Did you visit Budapest around the time the novel takes place, or earlier/later?

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  3. – One of the characters says that Americans are never satisfied. Do you think that Europeans\Hungarians are different in this aspect? – The novel starts with the desciption of the Danube river, and the water in a recurring motif in the chapters we’ve read. As a symbol, water often represents life, motion, renewal etc. Does water bear such symbolic meanings in this context?
    – You stated that Hungarians “don’t put on cheerful pretenses and smiles the way Americans do”. Is this an implication that the American cheerfulness\ politeness is in a way fake or pretentious?

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  4. 1. Is there any significance in setting the novel in the mid-90s, or is it simply for the plot? Do you have any special ties to Hungary in this time period?

    2. Which aspects of Budapest make the city an ideal setting for revenge and mystery narratives? Would you be able to imagine your story in a different city, like London or Paris?

    3. In class, we have briefly talked about American exceptionalism in the sense that Americans feel like they are in the States wherever they go. Would you agree with that idea?

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  5. Question 1:
    In the story, Josef says „Americans are never satisfied. We always want more, an I right?”. Do you think that the characteristic of never being satisfied is not only associated with Americans, but it is a universal characteristic of human nature, regardless the nationality (especially that America has different races and it is a nation of immigrants)?

    Question 2:
    Can you consider this literary work as a form of autobiography, but in the form of a story?

    Question 3:
    In page 16 in the first paragraph the literary work mentioned the point that Hungarians are not as smiley and cheerful like Americans, do you think that the American smiley and cheerful nature is a fake one and is that your personal opinion regarding Hungarians?

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  6. Question 1:
    In the story, Josef says „Americans are never satisfied. We always want more, an I right?”. Do you think that the characteristic of never being satisfied is not only associated with Americans, but it is a universal characteristic of human nature, regardless the nationality (especially that America has different races and it is a nation of immigrants)?

    Question 2:
    Can you consider this literary work as a form of autobiography, but in the form of a story?

    Question 3:
    In page 16 in the first paragraph you mentioned the point that Hungarians are not as smiley and cheerful like Americans, do you think that the American smiley and cheerful nature is a fake one?

    question 4:
    Does this story reflects your opinion regarding Budapest?

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  7. Questions about the book:
    1) In what way the writer’s experience in budapest affected her writings?
    2) what kind of emotions and atmosphere the city of Budapest invoked in the novel? How does it differ for an American?
    3) can this novel be read as an autobigraphy of the writer?

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  8. Thank you all for these wonderful questions. I will take time to answer them in the next few days. In the meantime, it was amazing to “meet” you all this morning during your class time. You made me feel nostalgic for Budapest and yearning to visit you and the city in person. It has been more than 20 years since I lived there. Warmest wishes, Jessica

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  9. Questions for the author of Strangers in Budapest:

    1.) Did you use non-existing address(es) on purpose? (Károly utca number 647, for example) If so, for what purposes?

    2.) In the fourth chapter, there is a scene in which skinheads assault the gypsy woman and her children. Did you have similar experiences on your own, seeing skinheads doing similar things to minority people, when you were in Budapest in the 90s?

    3.) Do you think your book is “written” for foreigners? Would it work as a translation, let’s say, as a Hungarian translation for Hungarian readers?

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  10. 1. Why have you decided to move to Budapest? (Not to any other European city).

    2. Is it more an autobiographical book or just a fiction story?

    3. What do you consider as the most inspirational spot in Budapest for your thinking process? Or maybe even work.

    4. Did you plan to write about Budapest before coming here or it was a spontaneous decision?

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  11. 1. You must have had imaginations about Budapest before coming here. Did Budapest and its ambience meet your expectations?
    2.What were the most essential features of the city that affect your way of writing the novel?

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