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  • Writer's pictureLisa Madsen Rubilar

Iza’s Ballad: How NOT to Care For Your Mother

If you’re trying to decide how to best help aging loved ones, read Iza’s Ballad by Hungarian novelist, Magda Szabó. You won’t find any cost-benefit analyses or mental-health talking points, but the novel provides insights you may not find anywhere else. The book tells the story of an elderly couple (Ettie and Vince) who have given wings to their precocious daughter, Iza. She returns to the nest more hawk than songbird. The horror of the book is how utterly unaware Iza remains as, after Vince’s death, she methodically squeezes the life out of her mother in the name of caring for her. The tone of the book is quiet, but the emotional impact is heart-shattering. Almost as powerful as the characters’ particular story is the political allegory. The more Iza tries to sanitize and modernize Ettie’s life, the more she erases the essence of Ettie’s being, just as Communism ravaged the Hungarian way of life in the name of creating a “better” society. The book is a cautionary tale in more ways than one. First published in 1963 in Hungarian, then translated by George Szirtes and published by The New York Review of Books in 2016, Iza’s Ballad speaks to the quandaries we face today, in our hearts, our families and our society.

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