Zsófia Bán

Night School - A Reader for Grownups

Original Hungarian title: Esti iskola. Olvasókönyv felnőtteknek, published in 2007 by Kalligram
(German title: Abendschule)
ca. 239 pages
Zsófia Bán
Foto: Zsófia Bán
© Ekko von Schwichow

Zsófia Bán, author, art and literary critic, has published several collections of essays. She was born in 1957 in Rio de Janeiro and grew up in Brazil and Hungary. She currently teaches American studies in Budapest.

Evening School was awarded with the Attila József Prize in 2008.

Amikor még csak az állatok éltek was awarded with the Tibor Déry Prize in 2012 and shortlisted for the International Literature Award – Haus der Kulturen der Welt 2014.

Sold to

English world rights (Open Letter), Spanish world rights (Siruela)

Lessons in Happiness and Perfidy


»We learn so much over the course of our lives, and then, at the decisive moment, at the grand finale, there is so little of it we can actually use.«

Zsófia Bán’s writing is born out of silence. Out of the presence of the untold stories that surrounded her as a child of Holocaust survivors. Zsófia Bán, who made a name for herself with her essays on W. G. Sebald, Imre Kertész, and Susan Sontag, has now chosen the format of a school book to work through her encyclopaedic life experiences one subject at a time, from geography to chemistry to French. In subtly ironic language she tells the story of a scientist who disappeared in the jungles of Laos, of the young Flaubert’s trip to Egypt with his friend Maxime, of the life of a central European woman who was shot to death on the banks of the Danube. But she also manages to smuggle one of the greatest love scenes ever written into her Evening School and concludes her lessons in happiness and perfidy with a fairy tale about the wonderful return of laughter.

The unifying factor in these texts is the desire to explore taboo and absurd subjects in order to learn lessons for life – an eminently intelligent book that delights in telling a good story. Once you’ve read it, the once all-too-familiar world will appear both wild and strange.

»No, my dears, that's not how it works. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one should perhaps try to speak, don't you think?«


»Bán is a citizen of history and a virtuoso of language [...]. Her riffs [...] are often long, loopy, sentences/paragraphs, as complex as the rococo curlicues of her compatriot László Krasznahorkai, but hipper and sexier, with overtones of Hunter S. Thompson, Frank Zappa, and The Firesign Theater.« Jonathan Levi, European Literature Network

»Award-winning Brazilian/Hungarian essayist, historian, and critic Bán's fiction debut presents itself as a tongue-in-cheek student textbook. Within dryly titled section - "French," "Chemistry/Physical Education," "English/Home Economics," "The Foundations of Our Worldview" - strange stories unfold, sprinkled liberally with interjections and assignments for the student. [...] Acerbic, playful, full of quick-witted philosophy, and unstintingly original, this is a varied and unsettling reader for our varied and unsettling times.« Kirkus Review

»Zsófia Bán celebrates laughter’s return […] [Evening School is] a surprisingly mature and atmospherically dense debut.« Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

»[an] impressive debut […] It’s not often that someone makes one’s debut in such a bold way – and with such refinement. […] Zsófia Bán’s Evening School is a subtle opus made up of marvellous, didactic, philosophical and umpteen other elements, and which opens itself up anew to each rereading.« NZZ

»You don’t find a book like Zsófia Bán’s Evening School every day. […] those who follow Zsófia Bán’s sassy, piercing look onto the world, will find themselves refreshed.« Literaturen

»Everything is tangible, close and precise [in Bán’s writing] and at the same time it is organized by a philosophical mind that doesn’t want to describe or refute, but wants to drive right into the paradoxical with wit, mockery, irony, sarcasm, severity and sorrow.« Deutschlandradio Kultur

»The ironic way of dealing with alleged truths and the author’s subtle humour make the book an inspiring read« an.schläge