Bereményi Géza: Biography

Géza Bereményi (Budapest, 25 January 1946 –)

Kossuth, Attila József, and Béla Balázs Prize-winning Hungarian writer, lyricist, screenwriter, and film director. He was awarded the title of Artist of the Nation in 2020.


He was born on 25 January 1946 in Budapest. His mother was Éva Mária Bereményi (1928–2003) and his father was Géza Vetró (1921–1986). Until the age of six he was raised by his grandparents, who worked in the Teleki Square market. His mother’s second husband was István Rozner, and Géza lived with them after they married in 1952 and changed his surname from Vetró to Rozner. The revolution of 1956 was a defining experience for young Bereményi. His mother and stepfather wanted to emigrate, but they left the decision to their ten-year-old son, and he did not want to leave the country. He started his secondary school education at the Apáczai Csere János High School in Budapest, and graduated from Türr István High School in Pápa in 1964. After his military service, he studied Hungarian and Italian at Eötvös Loránd University, graduating in 1970. From 1971 to 1978 he worked as a film dubbing dramaturg at the Pannónia Film Studio, and since 1978 he has been a freelance writer.

In 1970 he published his first collection of short stories, The Swedish King (A svéd király). It was at this time he took the surname Bereményi, at the suggestion of the publisher. His first novel, Legendarium (Legendárium), was published in 1978.

In the 1970s, he also began writing plays and screenplays; his first plays include „Poremba” (1976, Studio K Theatre), „Cubic Space” („Légköbméter”) (1978, Pesti Theatre) and „Halmi” (1979). Three of his early dramatic works („Dogs”, „Cubic Space”and „Halmi, or the Prodigal Son) were published in a collected volume in 1982 under the title Trilogy (Trilógia). His best-known film script is Time Stands Still (1981, directed by Péter Gothár). Since the 1980s he has also been active as a film director, usually making films from his own scripts (e.g. The Disciples [A tanítványok], 1985; Eldorado [Eldorádó], 1989; The Bridgeman [A hídember], 2002). His films have won several prestigious awards.

In the winter of 1970–71, he met songwriter, composer, and singer Tamás Cseh (1943–2009) and moved into his apartment. In the summer of 1972, they travelled together to Paris, considered emigrating, but finally returned home. It was after that journey that Cseh made his first public performance. From the moment they met, except for a break between 1982 and 1989, they worked together until the singer’s death. Bereményi wrote hundreds of lyrics to Cseh’s music and composed the libretto for many of his theatre performances. These include Letter to My Sister (Levél nővéremnek, 1976, with János Másik and János Novák), Antoine and Desiré (Antoine és Desiré, 1978), The Curfew of the White Dolls (Fehér babák takarodója. 1978) and Frontline Passage (Frontátvonulás, 1979), all of which were released as records.

Bereményi also wrote lyrics for other performers, especially actors who were also trying their hand at singing (Juli Básti, György Cserhalmi, Anikó Für, Péter Gerendás, Judit Hernádi, Dorottya Udvaros), to music by László Dés and Róbert Hrutka. He has also worked as a lyricist for theatre and film productions, for example the famous theme song, The Great Journey (Nagy utazás), for the film We Never Die (Sose halunk meg, 1992), performed by Gábor Presser.

Since the 1990s, he has written many plays, taken part in stage adaptations (e.g. Heinrich Böll„s Katharina Blum's Lost Honour; Magda Szabó's The Door; István Örkény’s Tell Me About It, Pista), and worked as a director. From 1997 to 2006 he was art director of the Hevesi Sándor Theatre in Zalaegerszeg, and from 2012 to 2017 he was managing director of the Thália Theatre in Budapest.

His second novel, Baby Vadnai, was published in 2013. His autobiographical novel, Hungarian Copperfield (Magyar Copperfield), was published in 2020, and was awarded the Libri Literary Prize. In 2021, his collected short stories were published under the title I’m Still Alive (Azóta is élek).

In 2017, he was elected Honorary Citizen of Budapest, and in 2020, Artist of the Nation.

He has four children from four marriages: Anna Pásztor (1972), Sára Bereményi (1978), Márk Bereményi (1999) and Bálint Bereményi (2003).


Bereményi’s multi-faceted oeuvre explores the possibilities of understanding and artistically representing individual and community history. From song lyrics to movies and novels, all of his works use the tools of autofiction, i.e. he mixes biographical, historical, and public events with fictional elements. Bereményi’s works thus create a private world of their own, the boundaries of which do not coincide with those of the individual artistic disciplines. This world ensures a constant passage of characters, plot elements, motifs, and text units between different genres.

Bereményi’s career is characterised by slow shifts, long hiatuses, and successful new beginnings. For this reason, different parts of his work seem more important at different times. However, in the context of his oeuvre as a whole, his prose, playwriting, song writing, and film works are of equal importance, and are all of high quality and lasting value.

His debut collection of short stories, The Swedish King (1970), was followed eight years later by Legendarium, a densely woven postmodern family novel built up from a montage of novellas. It creates a memorable textual world by means of poetic procedures that still seem extremely progressive: flashforwards and flashbacks, memory structures built from objects, and a system of internal references.

For a long time after the publication of Legendarium, Bereményi did not publish any prose works. His two collections of short stories, The Turned-up Collar (A feltűrt gallér) in 1994 and Jesus Reading the Newspaper (Jézus újságot olvas) in 2009 contained few new writings. In 2013, he published his sentimental historical-educational novel Baby Vadnai. In 2020, his memoir and self-described „life novel” Hungarian Copperfield was published, and is considered by critics to be the crowning achievement of his oeuvre, as well as the recipient of numerous awards. Focusing primarily on childhood and adolescence, the memoir follows the life of its narrator up to graduation. The text is based on a „then–later–now” structure, which means that the events of childhood often collide with adulthood and the present (and even the specific circumstances of the act of writing the novel itself). The past and present interact, since childhood in itself is not a given, but is only accessible through memory, and the act of remembering is also an artificial reconstruction. At the same time, Hungarian Copperfield is not only a memoir, but also a coming of age novel.

Bereményi’s collected short stories were published in 2021 under the title I'm Still Alive. Besides childhood years, the recurring themes of the short stories are the events of youth and relationship crises. Since the internal organisation of his oeuvre is not genre-based, certain stories and motifs from his novels, lyrics, and films also appear in his shorter prose pieces. From a poetic point of view, it is the variety and often experimental narrative solutions and the diversity of linguistic registers that make the short stories remarkable. „Literature” („Irodalom”), „Snowfall in Víziváros” („Hóesés a Vízivárosban”), and „Jesus Reading the Newspaper” („Jézus újságot olvas”), for example, employ varied codes of autofiction. „Art Song” („Műdal”) weaves folkloric motifs, and „The Turned-up Collar” („A feltűrt gallér”) incorporates the official-bureaucratic language of the school system into the story, and several works, such as „Letter to Mrs Zs.” („Levelet Zs. asszonynak”) and „Letter from Irén” („Irén levele”), reinterpret the genre of the fictional letter (thereby relating to the lyrics of the songs written for Tamás Cseh’s album „Letter to My Sister” [„Levél nővéremnek”]).

His works written after the regime change in 1989 often focus on questions of community and national history and memory, moving away from individual life events. „Shakespeare's Queen” („Shakespeare királynője”), a „historical play” set in Elizabethan London, is not overtly allegorical, but it does highlight the exposure of free artistic creation to market constraints and changing political constellations. The film The Bridge Man (Hídember) (2002) depicts the figure of István Széchenyi and the political struggles of the reform era of the 1840s. Other works from Bereményi deal with the political and social consequences of the regime change and the winners and losers of the transition from communism to free market capitalism.

His volume Poems (Versek, 2016) contains a large number of works previously known as song lyrics alongside a number of new poems. The lyrics written for Tamás Cseh were published as 150 Lyrics (150 dalszöveg, 2008). Bereményi’s lyrics are characterized by a strong narrative character and a self-reflexive metapoeticism, i.e. gestures that seem alienating and emphasize the texts' artifice. This is achieved by means of irregular, sometimes erratic rhymes and rhythms, and allusions to the situations in which the texts were written and performed on stage.


The biography was written by Gergő Melhardt, translated by Benedek Totth and Austin Wagner.