Nádas Péter: Biography

Péter Nádas (Budapest, 14 October 1942 –)

Kossuth and Attila József Prize-winning writer, playwright, essayist. Founding member of the Digital Literature Academy since 1998.


Born in Budapest to a Jewish family on 14 October 1942. His mother was Klára Tauber, a labourer, and his father, László Nádas (Nussbaum), a telephone repairman. After the Arrow Cross takeover on 15 October 1944, his mother fled with him to Bačka and then to Novi Sad with false papers, but they returned to the capital immediately before the siege. His father, his brothers, and a friend barricaded themselves in a cellar, where they forged fake papers and printed pamphlets. Péter Nádas survived the siege with his mother in the apartment of his uncle, journalist Pál Aranyossi, among other children and adults who fled with fake papers. The house was hit by a bomb.

After the liberation of Budapest, they moved back to their apartment on Pozsonyi Street. László Nádas became a senior staff member of the Reparations Office, Klára Nádas became the Budapest secretary of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarian Women. On 24 August 1948, Péter’s younger brother Pál was born, and he and Péter were baptised a few days later in the Reformed Church on Pozsonyi Street. In 1953, his father, then the head of department at the Postal Ministry, was suspended on suspicion of embezzlement and prosecuted. Despite all charges being dropped after a few months for lack of evidence, he continued on in a lower position as director of the Downtown Telephone Exchange.

His mother died on 15 May 1955 after a long illness. In the summer of the same year, Péter Nádas fell ill and was treated for meningitis, from which it took him months to recover.

During the revolution of October 1956, his father was dismissed from his job by the Workers’ Council, and an anonymous caller threatened him. He fled with his two sons from their apartment. In 1957 they moved to Pozsonyi Street. His father was finally acquitted of all charges by the labour court. A few days after receiving the order, on April 15, 1958, he committed suicide. Magda Aranyossi became the guardian of the two boys. Péter Nádas moved into the Aranyossi’s apartment, while Pál was institutionalised.

In the summer of 1958, at the age of sixteen, he abandoned his studies. In the autumn he became an apprentice photographer. In the spring of 1961, he passed his apprenticeship exam, and from September he worked as a photojournalist trainee at the editorial office of Nők Lapja. He met journalist Magda Salamon, with whom he lived from March 1962. He finished his first novel, The Bible (A Biblia) on Christmas Day in 1962. He completed a two-year school for journalism. Between 1963 and 1965 he served in the army in Budapest. After his discharge he worked first as a photojournalist, then a few months later as a journalist.

In 1967 his first volume, The Bible, was published. He attended night school, starting twice and dropping out twice. Between 1965 and 1967, he studied philosophy at the Evening University of Marxism-Leninism, but skipped the state exam.

In the summer of 1968 he moved to Kisoroszi, where he rented a room. Here he wrote the short stories and texts of Description (Leírás). In 1969 he left his job as a journalist. In Kisoroszi, he also wrote a novel, The End of a Family Story (Egy családregény vége), which he finished in August 1972 and was published by the Szépirodalmi Publishing House only in 1977. In September 1972, he travelled to East Berlin on a three-month scholarship. In autumn 1973 and autumn 1974 he returned to Berlin, where he attended lectures on the history of the turn of the century at Humboldt University and read at the Staatsbibliothek. From the summer of 1973, he worked on the first draft of A Book of Memories (Emlékiratok könyve). In the spring of 1974, he destroyed the manuscript, and a few months later began writing the version of the novel we know today.

Between 1974 and 1979, he worked as a reading editor for the educational journal Our Child. He bought a plot of land in Kisoroszi and built a wooden house on it, where he worked on his novel. In 1979, he gave up his job and devoted himself solely to writing. In the same year he and Magda Salamon moved into a new apartment. In September 1980, rehearsals for his play Takarítás (Cleaning) began in Győr.

From January 1981 to February 1982 he lived in West Berlin on a DAAD scholarship, where he continued to work on his novel. In 1983 they sold their house and next year they moved to Gombosszeg. That year he wrote his essay Homecoming (Hazatérés) and continued to work on the novel.

In the spring of 1985, he was awarded the Attila József Prize. On 15 April 1985 he finished his novel, A Book of Memories. That summer, he began to work on his next novel, Parallel Stories (Párhuzamos történetek).

On 23 February 1990 he married Magda Salamon. In the first days of May 1990, as a guest of the European College of Literary Translators, he worked with his German translator, Hildegard Grosche, on the translation of the A Book of Memories. In the spring of 1991, at the invitation of his German publisher, Rowohlt Verlag, he traveled to Berlin, where he again worked with his translator on the German translation of the novel in the Wannsee House of the Literarisches Colloquium. In September, a few weeks after the book’s publication, he went on a reading tour of Germany. On 15 March 1992, he received the Kossuth Prize. He went on his second reading tour of Germany in April, the last stop of which is Vienna, where he received the Österreichischer Staatspreis für Europäische Literatur on 5 May. On 29 November he held a lecture at the Kammerspiel in Munich as part of the series Reden über Deutschland. On 23 March 1993 he gave a lecture at the Deutsche Bank. He was elected a member of the Széchenyi Academy of Letters and Arts.

On 28 April 1993, he was taken to St. John’s Hospital in Budapest suffering from a heart attack, where he was resuscitated. After his recovery, he resumed work on his novel Parallel Stories. In October 1994, he spent a month in a clinic near Munich undergoing treatment. On 24 March 1995, he received the Leipziger Buchpreis für Europäische Verständigung in Leipzig. In September, after the publication of the German translation of Yearbook (Évkönyv), he went on his third reading tour to Germany and Switzerland.

In 1998, A Book of Memories was awarded the prize for the best foreign language book of the year in France (Le Meilleur Livre Étranger, 1998). For the 1999 Frankfurt Book Fair, the Rowohlt pocket book series published 8 volumes of his selected works.

In autumn 2003 he received the Franz Kafka Prize in Prague. An exhibition of his photographs entitled A Wild Pear Tree(Egy vadkörtefa) was held at the Mai Manó House (House of Hungarian Photographers) in Budapest, and an exhibition of his photographs was also held in Berlin in January 2004.

In autumn 2005, his book Parallel Stories was published in three volumes. He worked on the book, with minor interruptions, for eighteen years.

In November 2005, he received the Pro Urbe Budapest Award „in recognition of his role as a contemporary writer in the literary life of Hungary and abroad”.

In January 2006, he was awarded the Márai Prize „for his outstanding success of 2005, for his major novel trilogy Parallel Stories”.

In June 2006 he was elected a member of the Berlin Academy of Arts.

In 2010 he became a Honorary Citizen of Budapest. In November that year, he was awarded the Best Hungarian Drama of the Year for his work Siren’s Song (Szirénének). The play was commissioned by the Ruhr 2010 Festival and was first performed in German.

In 2012, he was awarded the Brücke Berlin Prize (with German translator Christina Virágh) and the German public radio station Südwestrundfunk (SWR) Best Books List literary prize for his novel Parallel Stories. In the same year, the Parallel Reading Book (Párhuzamos olvasókönyv) was published, which can be seen as an appendix to the three-volume novel: it sheds light on some of the questions with which the author was concerned while writing it (a kind of working diary), and also includes notes, pictures, documents, essays (by Nádas and others), and interviews about the novel.

While he was working on his next novel, he published a number of shorter pieces of writing, including controversial essays on social and political issues.

After almost two decades of work and the publication of a few extracts, his two-volume memoir Shimmering Details (Világló részletek) was published in 2017. The book, which is deeply personal while also striving for realism and a careful examination of memories and spans more than a hundred years of Hungary’s history, became a major cultural event of the year. The memoir was published in German by Rowohlt in autumn 2017, translated by Christina Viragh.

From 23 June to 3 September 2018, for the second time, a photographic exhibition of his work was held at the Kunsthaus in Zug, Switzerland, under the title Autor auf Reisen (The Writer on the Road). The exhibition of works both old and new, taken with a mobile phone, was organized by Péter Nádas himself.

In the autumn of the same year, a selection of his essays was published by Rowohlt under the title Leni weint (Leni Cries).


The biography was written by Péter Balassa, updated by Erzsébet Schiller. Translated by Benedek Totth and Austin Wagner.