P E T E R  H A R G I T A I
Traveler and the Moonlight
Special 70th Anniversary Edition
Traveler and the Moonlight by Antal Szerb and translated into American English
by Peter Hargitai recounts the misadventures of a closeted intellectual forced to fit
into a life of conventional morality and its notions of manhood. Thirty-six-year-old
Mihály takes his new bride to Italy for their honeymoon, where chance separates
them, and he finds himself on the run from his marriage. Wandering aimlessly
from Perugia to Rome, he begins a break-though journey of fatally erotic longing
that culminates on the edge of an abyss too dark to contemplate. Set in Europe
during the rise of Fascism, his visionary states are eerily prophetic about one of
the darkest periods in human history and of the author’s own doom.
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His translation of Szerb’s novel (the original Hungarian title of the book is Traveler and Moonlight) dates from 1988. Since
then, another - British - translation was made by Len Rix in 2002. The two translations differ in style: while Rix's is more
contemporary, Hargitai’s version tries to convey a sense of Szerb's sophisticated language, reminiscent of the language of
Thomas Mann.
"Fine, ambitious, subtle, with something of Thomas Mann in it...The Traveler heads for the depths, studies what passive man
needs in order to become an adult--he needs a male trickster, an Earth Mother, and a Death Mother. We learn much about
woman's growth as well. One thing that especially moved me is this idea: The woman needs to rescue herself from being sold
from man to man, and the man needs to rescue himself from being sold to death."
"The Traveler's American translator, Peter Hargitai, has written an interesting afterword in which he reveals some of the
'secrets' of the novel. There is the double lure of androgynous love and sudden death."
"I hope The Traveler reaches thousands and thousands of readers."
-Elie Wiesel
Distinguished Nobel Laureate
-Robert Bly
Publication History
It was in 1985, in my aunt’s house in Budapest, where I found an original copy of Antal
Utas és holdvilág (literally Traveler or Passenger and Moonlight). I returned in
1988 on a Fulbright Grant to translate the novel. I secured the rights from Klára Szerb,
the author’s widow, through the state literary agency Artisjus in the same year.
I published a brief excerpt from an early draft of my translation, then titled Traveler and
the Moonlight
, in the March 1990 issue of Hungarian Heritage Review, edited by Paul
An excerpt from “Part One: The Honeymoon” and from “Part Three: Rome” of Traveler
and the Moonlight
was published in the anthology Fodor’s Budget Zion in 1991.
The first English edition of the complete novel appeared in 1994 as The Traveler under
the imprint of Püski-Corvin Books of New York. For this translation I received the Füst
Milán Prize by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on June 28, 1994.
In 1995, a second edition was issued by Püski-Corvin Books of New York to mark the
50th anniversary of the author’s execution and mass burial in 1945.
On April 26, 1995, my students and I at Florida International University had the name of
Antal Szerb inscribed into the memorial wall of the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach.
In 2003, Puski-Corvin Books releases rights to Authors Choice Press, an imprint of
iUniverse. A third edition is published.  Laurence Donovan, a reviewer for the Miami
Herald calls the translation poetic and inspired. Peter Hargitai's translation is inimitable
in its lyric power. It is not a labored midwifed journey by moonlight but a labor of love.
On the 60th anniversary in 2005, a Memorial Edition was published by Author’s Choice
Press. The novel received the Star Award and the Editor’s Choice distinction.
This edition of
The Traveler is part of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Antal Szerb (1901-1945) was a professor, a literary historian, and writer. His 1937
The Traveler has become a cult classic due, in large part, to the tragic way in
which the author and his story are intertwined. Seventy years ago, near the end of
World War II, Antal Szerb was executed by the Nazis and buried in an anonymous mass
grave. At the last minute he had been given a reprieve, but rather than abandon his friend,
he had chosen to die with him. A memorial erected in the town of Balf, Hungary by the
New York Jewish Refugee Aid Society in 1947 still stands today; part of the memorial,
an open book engraved in stone, offers the following Szerb quote:

"Freedom is the concern not only of one nation but all mankind."

I’m privileged to have been the first to translate and to publish this novel in English in
1994 in the United States. Since I’m familiar with the text, having taught the book in my
classes (in the guise of English Composition), as a part of the literature of the “Other
Europe,” I have become sensitive to the translation’s shortcomings. My students
confirmed just how dramatically language can change: what had been contemporary in
the 20th Century was no longer contemporary in the 21st Century. I had to retranslate the
entire novel, line by line, word by word, making the narrative more contemporary and
clearing up any mistranslations, omissions, and infelicities in my previous editions—at
the same time taking great pains that the flavor of the era be preserved, including its rich
colloquialisms and unique American idioms. It is my hope that I succeeded in making the
language more accessible, without yielding to the temptation to “dumb down” Antal
Szerb’s cosmopolitan sophistication and mordant wit. Insofar as the original title of the
novel is concerned (
Utas és holdvilág or literally Traveler or Passenger and Moonlight),
I elected to go back to my earlier, more faithful 1990 version in
Traveler and the
. With this new edition, I had a chance to rethink not only the title but every
word and turn of phrase, sometimes being more faithful, at other times less, in the hope
that by being less faithful to the literal, the translation is ultimately more faithful to the
original’s esthetic effect. I feel blessed that Hungarian is my mother tongue, and that I did
not need a midwife or a committee to help me with the Hungarian original; neither was I
given a version of a previous translation by a state literary agency nor any support from
the corporate machinery of the publishing industry. Perhaps it is better this way, freer,
more personal. As I stated earlier, I have my personal reasons for keeping the memory
of Antal Szerb and his enduring classic alive.
-George Gömöri
Publishing Hungary
-World Literature Today