Péter Zilahy Presents Newest Book to Boston University Students

By Olivia Lord
BU News Service

Péter Zilahy, the Hungarian novelist and poet, presented his new book The Last Window – Giraffe to a small group of Boston University students this Monday on campus.

About 20 students and 4 professors crammed into the chandelier lit room of the International Relations building on Bay State road. After every chair was filled and more were brought in, Péter Zilahy emerged with a messy stack of papers and palpable sense of humor.

After opening up the discussion with a few jokes, the room was set with smiling faces and open notebooks. He passed around his new book, The Last Window – Giraffe, while explaining the inspiration behind what he calls his ‘picture dictionary’.

Growing up in a dictatorship, Zilahy explains the lack of literature and open discourse available. He referred to it as “a total fake reality” and almost “an imposed euphoria”. His explained how the book uses a child-like perspective since everyone is treated like children in a dictatorship.

The book is organized in alphabetical order, split into sections and separated by pictures and anecdotes. When explaining curiosity and questions, he writes, “Who is going to clean up all this s***?” and describes it as a means to answer something you know nothing about.

“I tried to make this character like me, completely ridiculous.” Although he writes regularly for the New York Times, has had a sold out show on Broadway, and his book has been translated to 22 different languages, Péter Zilahy refuses to take himself too seriously.

“In this case life was imitating art,” Zilahy told the group. He was proud learn that his during the current revolution in Ukraine, citizens are using his book as a handbook for peace and it had won book of the year in their country. “Historical moments like this can bring people together in extraordinary ways.”

“People thought I was crazy,” Zilahy admitted. As a child, Hungary limited the opportunities for him. He wanted to study revolutions or protests and traveled to Berlin telling people his ideas. “I wasn’t crazy, I was actually very curious. This curiosity is what made me a writer.”

Many students had questions about life under a dictatorship. Zilahy explained how safe and orderly Hungary was. The streets were clean, there was no graffiti on the walls, and no petty crimes occurred. “For some people it is very comfortable to live in a dictatorship,” he elaborated.

The education Zilahy received was not only free but also extremely beneficial. In high school, he won many awards, was captain of the soccer team and valedictorian of his class. Not long after becoming interested in girls and politics, he was kicked out.

Nevertheless, his university allowed him to major in 5 subjects rather than the usual 2. He studied film making, history, philosophy but “never literature or the arts.”

“Because you couldn’t talk about certain things, humor was very important. If you wanted to say something serious, you said it in a joke,” Zilahy told the group. “This is why I never trust anyone who is completely serious!”

Zilahy can currently be found splitting his time between Berlin and Lago di Garda, where he is working on a new novel. His book The Last Window – Giraffe is on sale now.