Tamas Dobozy, "The Restoration of the Villa Where Tibor Kálmán Once Lived"
Tamas Dobozy’s “The Restoration of the Villa Where Tibor Kálmán Once Lived” (One Story 128, November 30, 2009) seemed like the kind of a tale someone will write after, say, reading a gripping history book on how WWII was fought in Budapest (reading the author’s One Story interview, this was in fact the case). It was lifeless. There is a captivating array of details, yes, but the main character, László, just plods along seeking forgiveness (and making things worse and worse for a big number of people he rats out to the Soviet authorities).
The previous sentence makes the story sound more interesting than it was. László escapes from Nazi hands and falls into Soviet medals. He lives a tortured, sell-out life in the villa of the one man whom he never met but whom he escaped from the army to meet. I could provide a few more details. There are a couple of interesting phrases: “betrayal had become László’s vocation” (5); “the woman [had] the tired look of someone who has outlasted her interest in life and can’t understand why she’s being provoked by those who insist on living” (5).
Two things about the interview. First, I had never seen any writer interviewed by One Story display such indifference toward editing his or her writing. I’ve seen many writers say that this is where the real work, the real mastery, begins. But here’s Dobozy: “I’m not someone who’s particularly interested in reworking a piece. Most of the time I just wish the editors would do it for me, take over, do what they want to the material.” Second, the writing advice Dobozy chose to share was a funny pick: a generic rejection letter. His comment: “Those words have done more to help me with improving my work than anything else.”