Cover image for Abigail
Uniform Title:
Abigél. English
Physical Description:
xi, 333 pages ; 21 cm.
Added Author:
Fourteen-year-old Gina, the spoiled daughter of a Hungarian general, rails against being sent to boarding school far from Budapest when war breaks out, but finds help in a statue of Abigail and her new "sisters."


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From the author of The Door , a beloved coming-of-age tale set in WWII-era Hungary.

Abigail , the story of a headstrong teenager growing up during World War II, is the most beloved of Magda Szabó's books in her native Hungary. Gina is the only child of a general, a widower who has long been happy to spoil his bright and willful daughter. Gina is devastated when the general tells her that he must go away on a mission and that he will be sending her to boarding school in the country. She is even more aghast at the grim religious institution to which she soon finds herself consigned. She fights with her fellow students, she rebels against her teachers, finds herself completely ostracized, and runs away. Caught and brought back, there is nothing for Gina to do except entrust her fate to the legendary Abigail, as the classical statue of a woman with an urn that stands on the school's grounds has come to be called. If you're in trouble, it's said, leave a message with Abigail and help will be on the way. And for Gina, who is in much deeper trouble than she could possibly suspect, a life-changing adventure is only beginning.

There is something of Jane Austen in this story of the deceptiveness of appearances; fans of J.K. Rowling are sure to enjoy Szabó's picture of irreverent students, eccentric teachers, and boarding-school life. Above all, however, Abigail is a thrilling tale of suspense.

Author Notes

Magda Szabó (1917-2007) is considered one of Hungary's greatest novelists. Her prose, dramas, essays, and poetry have been published in forty-two countries and in 2003 she was awarded the Prix Femina Étranger for The Door . The NYRB Classics edition of The Door was selected as one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2015. NYRB Classics also publishes her novels Iza's Ballad and Katalin Street .

Len Rix is a poet, critic, and former literature professor. In 2006, he was awarded the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize for his translation of Magda Szabó's The Door .

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

This infectious coming-of-age novel from Szabó (1917--2007), released in 1970 and translated into English for the first time, is a rollicking delight. Gina Vitay, the headstrong, spoiled lead, is reminiscent of Jane Austen's Emma. It is 1943 in Hungary and Gina's father, a general, sends her to the Matula Institute, a secluded, Calvinist boarding school for girls. Gina is forced to cut her hair, give away her possessions, and conceal her draconian life at school from her father. After Gina reveals to her teachers a strange, secret school tradition and ruins it, her classmates, all wonderfully rendered, ignore her. Gina resolves to escape, but then her father tells her Germany is going to win the war, and Gina can't return home. In desperation, she turns to Abigail, a mysterious statue that grants students' wishes. The teachers--handsome Péter Kalmár, sentimental König, good-hearted Susanna--are a strong supporting troupe. Readers will thrill as Gina navigates tangled situations--especially when kidnappers hoping to manipulate Gina's father into surrendering arrive at the Matula Institute's door. Szabó pairs the psychological insights reader will recognize from her novel The Door with action more akin to Harry Potter. Gina is one of Szabó's finest creations, and this work should continue to enhance her reputation in the U.S. (Jan.)

Kirkus Review

Sequestered at a boarding school during World War II, a rebellious teenager confronts secrets, lies, and danger.Published in Hungary in 1970, and translated into English for the first time by Rix, this intricately plotted novel by Prix Femina tranger winner Szab (1917-2007) (Katalin Street, 2017, etc.) complicates a predictable coming-of-age tale by setting it in perilous times: War rages, patriotism incites bitterness and bigotry, and a clandestine resistance movement stealthily arises. When 14-year-old Gina is sent suddenly from her home in Budapest to an elite religious school in the provinces, she feels deeply bereft: of her beloved governess, who was forced to return to her native France; of her aunt's delightful tea dances; of encounters with a handsome lieutenant with whom she is infatuated; and, most of all, of her father, whom she loves so deeply that she "felt the world complete only when they were together." Protected, indulged, and self-absorbed, Gina suffers protracted (and somewhat irritating) adolescent angst. She hates the academy: Once a medieval monastery, it looms like a fortress; girls, dressed in black uniforms, their hair braided unfashionably, are forbidden to bring jewelry, scented soaps, or even toothbrushes from home. Obedience to Christian precepts and school authority is strictly enforcedand, by Gina, repeatedly flouted. She breaks rules, antagonizes her teachers and classmates, and mocks rituals and traditions, including the girls' veneration of a statue they call Abigail, which has the uncanny power to know everything that happens at the school and offer warnings and sage advice. "All my life I have been a wild thing," Gina reflects. "I am impatient and impulsive, and I have never learned to love people who annoy me or try to hurt me." But when her father, visiting unexpectedly, reveals the reason he had to send her away, she vows to behave and realizes that Abigail is watching over her. Far from a supernatural being, Abigail's real identity, Gina believes, is "someone inside these fortress walls who lives a secret life."Urgent moral questions underlie a captivating mystery. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.