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We read My First Two Hundred Years again and again. His stories reflect a way of thinking most important to us all. Love of life. The ability to deal with life. Self-irony, which often helps in life.
“If I feel a bit blue, or just don’t feel like starting a new novel, this is the book I take off the shelf. I absorb love of life, indestructible cheeriness, optimism, good mood from it. It does good to everyone!”
-István J. Bedö
When asked why he entitled his memoir My First Two Hundred Years, Királyhegyi replied, “If it’s true that war years count twice, if I say I am two hundred, I am actually pretending to be younger than my age, since I had as bosses Franz Joseph I, Horthy, Szálasi, and even Hitler, because I worked in Auschwitz, as a simple deportee, and it is common knowledge that time there passed quite slowly, as long as one was still alive, anyway.”
"In this book we see history through the eyes of a natural-born writer whose indomitable spirit never flags, whose humor never fails.
Heart-rending and inspirational, a rare life-story that is also a page-turner, it’s the type of book young and old will be able to enjoy and learn from."
Pál Királyhegyi (pron. Pahl Keer-rye-hedyee; AKA Paul King, 1900-1981): My First Two Hundred Years
In the early years of the 20th century, Pál Királyhegyi, a young Hungarian, stowed away on a ship bound for America. Arriving on the 4th of July, he by turns worked as a busboy, elevator operator, and banker until he boarded a train west for Hollywood. There, he realized his American dream and wrote films for Paramount Pictures, hobnobbing with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and many more stars of the day.
But while at the height of his success, the restless Királyhegyi (known in America as Paul King, author of the English-language novel Greenhorn) decided to return to Europe, and eventually back to Hungary. That alone would be enough for a great life-story, but Királyhegyi’s journey had only just begun. As a Jew, the writer was “just in time” to be deported to a string of concentration camps in World War II Germany. There, he needed to rely on his sheer wits for survival, as he was targeted time and again by SS soldiers for death. Ultimately, Királyhegyi was liberated by American troops and returned to Hungary to withstand the Soviet occupation and flourish in Budapest as a playwright and novelist.
In My First Two Hundred Years, we see history through the eyes of a natural-born writer whose indomitable spirit never flags, whose humor never fails him, and whose eyes never turn away from the worst horrors delivered before them. Certainly no other writer one can think of has experienced the golden era of Hollywood, the ghastliness of the Holocaust, and the absurdity of Communism first-hand, and chronicled them with such a breezy wit uncorrupted by cynicism or bitterness. "My trip was urgent, lest I miss the Auschwitz express. I didn’t miss it.”
Like Angela’s Ashes, My First Two Hundred Years is the autobiography of an immigrant in America who overcomes seemingly insurmountable hardships to achieve success. Like Forrest Gump, it is a story that is both historically broad in scope but also deeply personal. Pál Királyhegyi’s autobiography also gives valuable insight to some of the most defining historical points of 20th century history. Heart-rending and inspirational, a rare life-story that is also a page-turner, it’s the type of book young and old will be able to enjoy and learn from.
It is our pleasure to re-introduce Paul King, or Pál Királyhegyi, to an English-speaking audience. Lovingly translated from the Hungarian by Paul Olchvary, My First Two Hundred Years makes an excellent addition to 20th century world literature. The book, which has the makings of a classic, is ultimately an uplifting look into the endurance of the human spirit when faced with the darkest forces. To paraphrase a Hungarian reviewer, you may shed a tear, but might not know if it is from sadness or laughter.
He who has a sense of humor knows everything. He who doesn’t is capable of anything.
This volume stands alone in Holocaust literature due to Királyhegyi’s voice, which, while unflinching, is that of a natural born humorist. Királyhegyi was ironic long before it was in vogue, something hinted at by the titles of his books and writings: Face to Face with Myself, Up the Slope, Honesty is Not a Shame, Only You! And Them, How to Make Enemies?
Királyhegyi treats arriving broke in New York City with the same deadpan wit as striking gold in Hollywood’s early years. Along the way he is the casual profiler of characters like Horthy (Hungary’s head of state through the interwar era), Rothschild, and Mengele, but saves his most acerbic barbs for himself.
A good example is an episode from after the war that finds Királyhegyi being exiled from Budapest by Hungary’s new communist government. Once he had returned from a communal farm to the city, he was forced to live in a windowless basement room, with but a naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. After wooing a dancer, he turned to her the next morning and said, “Tell me, do you love me?” “Of course,” the girl answered. “And if I were poor, would you still love me?” was his rejoinder.
No doubt it is this kind of levity that made the diminutive Királyhegyi so popular as a conversation partner in postwar Budapest’s most famous pubs. A member of both the intellectual elite and circles of artists, the author was prized company in a time when government authorities made much of silencing dissenters, particularly writers, as well as anybody else who dared to speak out against the absurdities of communism. But, of course, it would be Királyhegyi who in one Moscow-bound telegram stated, “J.V STALIN, MOSCOW, KREMLIN. THE SYSTEM HAS NOT WORKED OUT STOP PLEASE STOP IT STOP KIRALYHEGYI STOP”
He even proposed his on epitaph, alluding to his diminutive stature:
"Here lies Királyhegyi. Well, where is he?"
Királyhegyi published his memoir of the Holocaust Not Everyone Has Died in Hungarian in 1947. A huge hit in his home country, but unavailable in English, much of this essential historical document is incorporated into My First Two Hundred Years. On the seventieth anniversary of Királyhegyi’s first publication of his Holocaust work, we are proud to present My First Two Hundred Years to an English-speaking readership.
Pál Királyhegyi (1900–1981) was a Hungarian writer, journalist, humorist, TV personality, and screenwriter and perhaps the most quotable Hungarian of the twentieth century.
a novel by Pál Királyhegyi (Paul King)
“Greenhorn is charming…[with] a very quiet but sure humor.”
—New York Times 1932
“Mr. King enjoyed America for all its accurately placed punches on the chin. And readers will enjoy his account of his sojourn here, written in a merry tone throughout but leaving out none of the less pleasant angles of his experience.”
—The Saturday Review of Literature,
Published in 1932, written in English under the pen name Paul King, this largely autobiographical novel covers the author’s life from his adolescence in Budapest through New York, until he leaves from Detroit on a Hollywood-bound train. Greenhorn describes this particular period of the author’s life on about twice as many pages and in much more lovely and vivid detail than My Two Hundred Years does, while also providing fascinating insight into the triumphs and travails of one immigrant in America in the Roaring Twenties. If you liked My First Two Hundred Years, you will certainly enjoy Greenhorn as well.
“One of the most pleasant things I have ever read,” wrote Harry Salpeter, noted book critic of the time. No disaster “can really touch that core of sweetness and strength which makes him take it on the chin without a whine.”
These 1932 words are astonishing for us, who know today that these qualities of Királyhegyi would be put to the ultimate test in the years ahead, during the Holocaust, as he was to recount in My First Two Hundred Years.
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