Book: Valeria's Last Stand
For Fans Of: Milan Kundera, Italo Calvino, Gavriel Garcia Marquez
The year’s best new European writer may very well be an American. He’s Marc Fitten, age 34. Born in Brooklyn to Panamanian parents and raised in Da Bronx, he moved to Atlanta for high school. At 19, instead of working straight through college, he swanned off to the steppes of Hungary for four years. There, he found his wife—and an idea for a book.
“While I traveled around Hungary, I overheard a conversation between two old men who were lamenting the economic and political changes,” Fitten says. “Their state had shifted from socialism to capitalism, and people suddenly had to come to terms with that and had to re-create themselves on their own. I could see that it was especially hard on the older generation. They felt a golden age had passed and nobody seemed to care.”
Fitten’s eavesdropping led to his promising debut novel, Valeria’s Last Stand (Bloomsbury), out in May. It’s the lyrical story of a backwater Hungarian village poised in transition from communism to capitalism. The plot chronicles the affairs—literally—of sixtysomethings suddenly surrendering to long-buried passions. Novel namesake Valeria Patko finds her lifelong crankiness dissolving under the touch of the handsome village potter, who is also the love interest of Ibolya Nagy, a scheming, buxom tavern owner; the two women go to war over the easygoing Romeo, who discovers his Inner Artist amid their fireworks. Strong, flavorful characters round out Fitten’s cast: a newly capitalistic mayor and his fashion-plate wife; a horny, misanthropic chimney sweep; a tavern full of mob-ready village peasants. Fitten’s prose is simple, his scenes uncluttered. It’s a new sort of European fairy tale—Italo Calvino with a dash of paprika.
Valeria is a fine first work—and likely a fine second and third work, too. “My next two books follow the evolution of Hungary into the age of capitalism,” Fitten says. “They will reflect the life and times of different generations of women from the end of communism to present-day Hungary.” Valeria publishes in nine countries, beginning in May in the U.S. and England, with editions and a tour following in Germany and other European countries.
Fitten got the writing bug early on—along with a quick taste of what so many authors endure on the rocky road to success. “It was winter, 1990. American Lit with Mr. Kaminer,” he recalls. “We were studying Huckleberry Finn, and an assignment was to write a chapter for Huck and Jim. That sealed the deal for me—I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life. I wrote it. I thought it was brilliant. Then Mr. Kaminer picked someone else’s chapter to read to the class.”