Read The Third Tower: Journeys in Italy by Antal Szerb Len Rix Online


In August 1936 a Hungarian writer in his mid-thirties arrives by train in Venice, on a journey overshadowed by the coming war and charged with intense personal nostalgia. Aware that he might never again visit this land whose sites and scenes had once exercised a strange and terrifying power over his imagination, he immerses himself in a stream of discoveries, reappraisalsIn August 1936 a Hungarian writer in his mid-thirties arrives by train in Venice, on a journey overshadowed by the coming war and charged with intense personal nostalgia. Aware that he might never again visit this land whose sites and scenes had once exercised a strange and terrifying power over his imagination, he immerses himself in a stream of discoveries, reappraisals and inevitable self-revelations. From Venice, he traces the route taken by the Germanic invaders of old down to Ravenna, to stand, fulfilling a lifelong dream, before the sacred mosaics of San Vitale.This journey into his private past brings Antal Szerb firmly, and at times painfully, up against an explosive present, producing some memorable observations on the social wonders and existential horrors of Mussolini's new Roman Imperium....

Title : The Third Tower: Journeys in Italy
Author :
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ISBN : 9781782270539
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 112 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Third Tower: Journeys in Italy Reviews

  • Susan
    2019-03-24 09:25

    This short travel book was written in 1936, with the threat of war hanging over Europe, and the real possibility of visiting other countries soon being made much more difficult – if not impossible. Having rejected his initial wish to visit Spain due to the outbreak of the Civil War, he turned his attention to Italy. Antal Szerb was thirty five at the time he wrote this book; a gentle and kindly Hungarian of Jewish descent. Indeed, this book made what is generally regarded as his masterpiece, “Journey by Moonlight,” possible. Like the hero of that novel, Szerb arrived in Venice, and began writing it shortly after his return. The Third Tower consists of almost tiny snippets of description – each piece two or three pages. He writes of his troubles in finding rooms, of the heat, the architecture, scenery, food and drink, writers and poets. Despite his joy in his surroundings, he is perplexed by Mussolini’s Italy; the people seem to exist in a perpetual state of rejoicing, of unceasing celebration. You feel his exhaustion, his worry about what is coming and his awareness of the trials ahead in between his musings on the beauty of the country he is travelling through. This is a snapshot of a time and place, seen through the eyes of a sensitive and observant man. Sadly, Antal Szerb was right in his worries about Europe and travel would soon be denied him. Like countless others, Szerb would lose his life in the coming war – beaten to death in a concentration camp. As he realised at the time, this was less a trip to Italy and more a farewell. I am so glad that Pushkin Press is republishing Szerb’s books and I hope that these new editions of his work will give him a greater audience, as he is more than deserving of it.

  • Chris
    2019-03-25 07:46

    I felt bereft when Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy stopped mid-sentence only in sight of Lyon. Mr Yorick was due to travel down western Italy via Turin, Milan, Florence and Rome as far as Naples but, unhappily for all, the full account was cut short by the small matter of the writer’s death. Fortunately I had Antal Szerb’s The Third Tower recently published in English to console me, though the Hungarian’s travels were essentially down the east coast of Italy only as far south as San Marino. But, just as with Sterne’s writings, this was as much — if not more — about the person than the places visited.The Third Tower is in the form of journal notes, undated, but all in August 1936. Szerb had considered Spain but the civil war decided him against it: he would go to Italy instead “while Italy remains where it is, and while going there is still possible”. War remains the backdrop to all he writes, not just Spain’s conflict but also what’s developing in central Europe as well as in Italy itself. It’s easy for me to say with hindsight, but Szerb writes with some prescience when he adds, “My impressions of Italy always feel like the last visions of a dying man.”He is shocked by how hot Venice is in August, but still, for now, he feels “more completely myself” while visiting there, praising especially its back alleys for getting away from the crowds. Staying in a pensione in St Mark’s Square he notes that the “Campanile is a modern construction, and one senses a certain sacrilege about it.” Less than a quarter-century old when Szerb saw it, the original had collapsed into rubble in 1902; its replacement was completed in 1912 and dedicated on the feast of St Mark. The mention of the bell-tower in splendid isolation is the first appearance of a leitmotif in The Third Tower, emblematic of the author’s own solitariness during his three-week holiday in the peninsula. In the piazza he observes passing signoras and signorinas, including street girls as young as 12; while he confesses to an even lower level of “sexual restlessness” than ever he believes that Venice is “herself a woman, mysterious and alluring, in her brick-pink serenity”, albeit under a carnival mask.Vicenza impresses Szerb for its classicism: literary giants like Goethe and English Romantic poets visited the city because of the presence of Palladio’s innovative architectural vision. Verona on the other hand is “grimly handsome” and its associations with Germanic invaders and especially Dietrich von Bern — the Gothic king Theodoric the Great ‘from Verona’ — remind the author of war brewing in Europe, which the M-shaped battlements of Scaliger fortifications only underline. His temper is not improved after taking a room in the Piazza Erbe: not only is he affected by the summer heat and a plague of mosquitoes but he has foolishly chosen the great mid-August Catholic feast of Ferragosto, and the partying in the square keeps him awake until 5am. (We had a similar experience in an hotel near the train station in Rome, with revellers smashing glasses and bottles well after midnight, their place taken by council workmen clearing up the mess in the early hours of the morning.) Szerb escapes to Gardone on the west side of Lake Garda. Here he notes that the cypress tree “standing guard in front of the house” may be a literary cliché but that it is true for all that. Then it’s on to Bologna, for which he needs his sense of humour:"The journey from Gardone to Bologna takes almost a full day. The section by boat [across Lake Garda] is delightful, but the train from Desenzano to Bologna proves rather less so. It stops for five to ten minutes at every station, the passengers get off, and then get back on. It is called, with the gentle irony of the Italians, the accelerato."Despite the city’s charms he is disturbed by what he sees Italy becoming, “a country of the self-satisfaction of the masses”. Even though fascism is based on the cult of Mussolini, embodied in that personality cult is “a dictatorship of the people” in whose hands, unlike nominally democratic Britain, real power lies. His malaise is compounded not only by those sentinel cypresses, dark alleyways and castle battlements, but also by the Asinelli and Garisenda towers, the most famous landmarks in Bologna, then as now. “It is no accident,” he writes, that Italians in “moments of grandeur … put on black shirts and go marauding, or march around in procession dressed up as bandits.” Has anything really changed in eight decades?With some relief — for all of us — he decamps to Ravenna where, in a variation of Stendhal syndrome he is “seized by an intense perturbation” when viewing the exquisite mosaics. Yet we know from Procopius’ The Secret History that behind the glittering façade of Justinian’s court much evil lurked; and Szerb muses even more on the petty and not so petty tyrants that litter history when he goes to view Theodoric’s tomb: “Even as I stood above the grave of Dietrich von Bern, Spanish government troops were being slaughtered in the Guadarrama pass and the insurgents were firing their last rounds at the Toledo Alcázar … It has become a clash of two opposing worlds: two versions of collectivism…”Will there ever be a third power between these two worlds? He might find an answer in San Marino, which he reaches via Rimini. Here he visits two of the fortifications on Monte Titano with the omnipresent crowds, finally reaching the Third Tower on his own. Here at last he comes “into possession of my soul”. His restlessness throughout this journey he believes arises from “forced contact with the collectivity of the lonely, the euphoric Italian collectivity,” his “solitary happiness threatened by the happiness of the herd, because they were stronger than I was.” The profound loneliness of the outsider in the midst of seething masses has clearly affected him, his pessimism not only an aspect of his personality but also a reflection of the great undercurrents in Europe that were soon to result in a six-year war.His three-week visit is nearly at an end. In Ferrara his fatigue is pointed up by the monotonous pattern of central piazza, palazzo, hotel, wine, cathedral and so on. Not forgetting the mosquitoes. Finally on the very frontier of Italy he arrives in Trieste. Here – despite the city’s curiously happy pride in the manufacture of enamel chamber pots – its Austro-Hungarian legacy to him “feels like home”. His Italian soggiorno is over: “whatever becomes of Europe, trust in your inner stars. Somewhere, always, a Third Tower will be waiting for you…”Despite the overall sadness, Szerb’s account is leavened by sly humour and wry observations. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of Len Rix’s translation but at no point did the text read awkwardly. In a little over a hundred pages, with a sprinkling of period photographs, The Third Tower is engaging but, with short chapters, easy to pick up and put down. For me it helped that I had visited some of the places he stays at, but even for those unfamiliar with Italy this gives a vivid feel of a southern European country on the verge of momentous happenings. And, worryingly, many of the national traits he describes are still in evidence, as if we’d never learnt anything from history.

  • Becky
    2019-02-28 11:31

    I'm a big fan of Pushkin Press. Thanks to them Stefan Zweig has started to become a author that people recognise, it seems that the next author on their list to promote seems to be Antal Szerb. Like Zweig Szerb was a central European writer who was a bestseller in the period running up to the Second World War. He wrote novels, biographies, short stories and studies of the changing political climate he experienced in a world that was swiftly turning itself over to fascism. Szerb was an academic who was barred from university posts in the increasingly fascist Hungarian state. In 1943 he was deported to a concentration camp where he was beaten to death a year later. Another important and deeply talented voice that was cut off by the barbarities of the Nazi experiment. I have a few of his better known works on my to read list, but decided to start my exploration of his works with this collection of notes from a tour of northern Italy taken in 1936. As a bit of an italophile myself, I couldn't think of a better introduction to Szerb. I was right, this is a truly delightful collection of musings about a changing Italy. This is no stuffy travelogue but instead is a fun, irreverent record of travelling from Venice to Bologna. Along the way Szerb muses on the cheap trains offered by the fascist state, and on the quality of the tourist experience. His writing style feels incredibly modern, the little snippets about the food, the difficulty of finding a good hotel room and even about the bourgeois attitude of fellow writer Zweig wouldn't be out of place on a modern blog or other social media. Szerb feels hemmed in by the crowds of tourists that he encounters during his journey, he finds the adulation of Mussolini disturbing and cannot see how everyone in Italy has been duped by the incessant cheerfulness of the newspapers. His insight is incredibly poignant as is his recognition that war must surely be on the horizon. Szerb only finds true peace when he leaves the rest of the tourists behind and visits the third of San Marino's towers set high above the city. He sits at the base of the Montale and realises that no matter what the future brings, the memory of beautiful moments can never been taken away. "The happiness I feel here at the foot of the Third tower is something I must not give up for anyone: for anyone, or anything. I cannot surrender my soul to any nation state, or any set of beliefs."Reading this is all the more poignant when you think about how much would be taken away once war began three years later. The Third Tower is a charming snapshot of a lost Italy and of a moment when the horrors of the 1940s had yet to happen. As always with Pushkin the translation is light and lovely, here there is the added benefit of period photographs to illustrate Szerb's travels. I am now really looking forward to reading my next Antal Szerb book.

  • Joseph
    2019-03-02 06:41

    Venice is herself a woman, mysterious and alluring, in her brick-pink serenityAntal Szerb's cult 1937 novel Journey by Moonlight starts with its protagonist - honeymooner Mihály - choosing a solitary nocturnal ramble in the back alleys of Venice over the pleasures of the bridal bed. It proceeds with Mihály contriving to separate himself from his wife and embarking on a journey of self-discovery in the Bel PaeseIf there is any doubt as to whether Szerb's novel is based on personal experiences, "The Third Tower" should put it to rest. Subtitled "Journeys in Italy" and first published in 1936, it can be considered as the non-fiction companion to Journey by Moonlight. Like the novel, it opens in the back alleys of Venice and, as in the later work, Italy is described not just from the perspective of the casual traveller, but also through the eyes of a literary critic, who knows Italy well from its portrayal by Goethe, Byron and several Nordic authors. It is Italy "as others see it". The Third Tower also shares with its fictional twin a prescient foreboding associated with the rising Fascist powers - although Szerb's criticism of Mussolini and the unthinking support of the Italian populace is much more explicit and scathing here.When I read Journey by Moonlight earlier this year, I found it intriguing but quite heavy-going. As the months roll on however, I am still haunted by its images and mood, long after other more "enjoyable" books have fallen by the wayside. Szerb has an eye for the striking scene and the gift to evoke it in an arresting way. Consider, for instance, his solitary musings at San Marino, beside the the tower which gives this book its name:The whole of this part of the country is mine: on one part, rich, twilit Romagna, with its scattering of towns, sloping gently down to the distant sea; and, on the other, the bandit-haunted Appenines of ancient Etruria. Behind them again, I sense the presence of my Easter kingdom: Urbino, Arezzo, Gubbio, and the whole of Umbria. These are real mountains, as vast as a man could wish... The Appenines are human-scale, just as the whole Italian landscape is human-scale. And that it is why it is lovelier than any other.This Pushkin Press edition is a little gem, from the fluent translation by Len Rix (who also contributes an introduction), to the vintage black-and-white illustrations, to its atmospheric cover portraying a watercolour of the Venice skyline.4.5*

  • J.
    2019-03-12 06:33

    This book is one of those rare gems which stay in the reader's mind long after the book has been finished. At 104 (physically) small pages, Szerb's memoir packs a powerful punch of fierce (yet gently presented) intelligence, thoughtfulness, lyricism, and wry observation and critique, and humorous touches:["Later I learnt from Baedeker that these towers are the most famous landmark in Bologna. I am afraid even I should have known about them. I fear I am rather like the notorious American lady, Mrs. Green, who tells us in the recently published account of her Italian travels that 'the Tiber is a truly magnificent river, despite the fact that no one has ever heard of it.'" (82)]Traveling along with Szerb, the reader gets a sense of appreciation for the land, architecture, art, and the sheer antiquity of Italy. Yet, it's sections such as "The People's Train, " "The Third Tower," and "Trieste, or, in a Word, Exhaustion," where the larger context of Szerb's travels cut though any sense of holiday: the reality stands that this is Szerb's final sojourn though Italy. As he provides comments on Fascism's hold throughout Mussolini's Italy, the sense that Szerb is bidding farewell - to Italy, to Europe, to life - is pervasive. Knowing that Szerb, a Jew who converted to Catholicism, was to die in a labor camp in 1945, makes his observations (particularly those at the end) especially cutting:"There, at the foot of the Third Tower, I understood everything. My restlessness - on the train, in the various hotels and inns, in the periods between excursions, indeed whenever during the entire journey I had been forced into contact with the collectivity of the lonely, the euphoric Italian collectivity. I shielded my solitariness from them, and from the European future that they represented for me. I felt my solitary happiness threatened by their happiness of the herd, because they were stronger than I was.The happiness I feel here at the foot of the Third Tower is something I must not give up for anyone: for anyone, or anything. I cannot surrender my soul to any nation state, or to any set of beliefs." (98-99)"I am tired. It will be very good to go home. The panic is over, I have calmed down, my inner reserves are exhausted. Somehow, all it needs now is courage. Just don't surrender your solitude for anything or anyone. How does Milton's Satan put it? 'What matter where, if I be still the same?' Whatever becomes of Europe, trust in your inner stars. Somewhere, always, a Third Tower will be waiting for you.It's enough." (104)

  • Telans
    2019-03-10 07:43

    "Путешествия по Италии" были написаны в 1936 году молодым венгерским писателем Анталом Сербом еще не знающим, но смутно ощущающим тем не менее, что что-то страшное грядет - война, трудовой лагерь Балф и смерть за 3 месяца до конца Второй мировой... Он много поездил по Европе после окончания учебы и защиты докторской диссертации, и в этот раз думал о поездке в Испанию, однако этим планам не суждено было воплотиться, ибо "в это наиболее ужасное лето во всей истории Испании, она не самое гостеприимное место" со всеми ее тогдашними воплями триумфа антагонистичных радиостанций, воющими о разрушении всего в мире, требующими крови и мести, рвущими в клочья страну. Неисправимый романтик с душой поэта направил свои стопы в Италию, любимую, знакомую ранее, и ...так изменившуюся. “My impressions of Italy always feel like the last visions of a dying man.” В книге много фотографий - черно-белых, качественных, в ней много городов, эпох и лиц, и все же это в больше степени размышления на фоне, нежели путевые заметки о. Прогулки по Венеции, Болонье, Вероне, Равенне, когда спину опаляет горячее дыхание завтрашнего дня прекрасны и жутки одновременно. Витражные окна церквей, камни мостовых и стены старинных домов, сама земля здесь пропитана историей человечества, где дней войн и крови было больше в разы дней мирных и созидательных. Стоя у мавзолея Дитриха Бернского (исторический Теодорих) он вспоминает кровопролитные битвы эпохи Великого переселения народов, что засели в памяти народной надолго и перешли в саги, наводнив центральную Европу героями эпосов, вспоминает седую древность, что как страшная птица Феникс оживает из века в век в обличии все более ужасном и опустошающем. Думает о давнем, но оказывается - о сегодняшнем.Even as I stood above the grave of Dietrich von Bern, Spanish government troops were being slaughtered in the Guadarrama pass and the insurgents were firing their last rounds at the Toledo Alcázar. But the war in Spain has long ceased to be a struggle between rebels and government forces. It has become a clash of two opposing worlds: two versions of collectivism finally joined in open conflict. Now the other nations of Europe stand poised around the Spanish ring, armed to the teeth and holding on to one another’s hands, lest they rush to the aid of one of the combatants — before counting up to nine over whichever goes down, and hurling themselves at one another to establish, through warfare, whichever of the two had been right. Byzantium and the Goths, East and West, Orthodox and Arian (Arians/Aryans: the names echo, as if history were making a pun). Once the battle was for Rome. Now it is for the whole of Europe.Мир безумствует, одинокий человек бродит в этом мире и все еще находит силы для восхищения, банальности и чудес.

  • Didier Vanoverbeke
    2019-02-22 12:25

    I was likely rather silly for making this my first taste of Szerb. It is a fine read, if ultimately inconsequential, and likely a footnote in Szerb's oeuvre, though I already enjoy the man's candor. Onward and upward, then?

  • Jonathan Lapham
    2019-03-25 11:21

    I read this standing in the bookstore, thanks Powell's...nice tour through Italy. 3.5

  • Andrew De Sousa
    2019-03-22 07:32


  • Ali Miremadi
    2019-03-13 07:31

    Beautiful travel writing. Fascinating on the state of Italy in 1936 and the very different status of some different European countries then. Revealing of Szerb himself too.

  • Chris Appel
    2019-02-22 09:34

    nostalgic travel book through northern italy. especially recommended for readers who have been to the cities szerb visits (venice, ravenna, bologna, et al).