Obituary: Istvan Bart

Obituary: Istvan Bart

The Hungarian publisher, Istvan Bart, died in Budapest at the age of 75. He was known internationally as head of the Association of Hungarian Publishers and Book Booksellers (MKKE) from 1989 until 2008, director of Corvina Publishing and as the translator of Jack London, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, Norman Mailer, Arthur Koestler, Bret Easton Ellis, Cormac McCarthy, Jonathan Franzen and F. Scott Fitzgerald, just to name a few. He was an early foreign attendee of the newly established London Book Fair.

Early on in his career he was editor of the influential European Publisher, and between 1984 and 2004 he was Director of Corvina Publishing. In the 1980s Istvan was Secretary General of the Hungarian PEN Club. During his time as head of MKKE he founded the Hungarian Association of Professional and Literary Authors and Publishers, which supports Hungarian authors and book publishers. He was also a published novelist with The Unlucky Rudolf Prince translated into dozens of languages and Three Elemér Street reissued in its third edition just recently.

I remember in 1991 Istvan suggesting some training for Hungarian booksellers and publishers from the UK. "Could I help", he asked me, "in accessing funding from the Know How Funds" then available from our Foreign Office. I made enquiries and was told that I needed to get a "very senior" political figure in Hungary to write to a "very senior" counterpart in London. Istvan asked if his son’s godfather would do. That was the writer Árpád Göncz, taking a leave of absence from his creative works to be the President of Hungary. Göncz wasn’t one for protocol and so he wrote directly to my junior contact at the FCO. Istvan got his training courses and on my next visit to the FCO I saw the letter framed and hanging on my junior contact’s wall. Not many heads of state wrote to him directly. Istvan had a knack of knowing how to get things done.

Istvan founded with Andre Deutsch, Edmund Fisher, Graham C. Greene and myself Libra Books, a bookshop in Budapest that sold for the first time an unprecedented range of ELT books from British publishers, opening its doors in 1991 with queues of teachers around the block waiting patiently to come in.

Istvan was my guest at a Society of Bookmen dinner just as Central Europe was opening up. When his name was read out everyone broke into applause, thus acknowledging the pivotal role Hungary had played in allowing East Germans to pass through Hungary to reach West Germany—the act that ultimately brought the Berlin Wall peacefully down.

In the mid-nineties Istvan privatised the state publishing company that he’d led since 1984. Corvina adapted to the new commercial climate under his stewardship. He also went East with me and other colleagues to train Mongolian publishers in those optimistic days of the late 90s. In the 2000s he was director of the CEU Press. He worked with his wife Kinga Klaudy on basic works of literary theory. With his immense understanding of the nuances of every single word he created an English/Hungarian and an American/Hungarian dictionary.

The literary and publishing world will be poorer for the loss of this man who gave so much to the people of Hungary and beyond.