Old People

Goncz, Arpad

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: Nov-01-2001


An elderly woman prepares for an announced visit from "officials" to honor the 90th birthday of her demented and bedridden husband, Bernat, once a major force in the scientific community of Communist controlled Hungary. As she flutters about the apartment, preparing to serve cakes and drinks to the anticipated visitors, the reader becomes acquainted with the unnamed protagonist's own concentration difficulty. She repeatedly lapses into remote recall, speaking fondly of an apparent former lover and occasionally sighing for Mommie or Daddy.

During the brief period of waiting, she unfolds bits and pieces of the life of the intellectually privileged and those not so lucky during the Communist regime, and her own regrets for dreams not realized. The reader does not meet the guests, but learns of the visit only through the eyes of Bernat's wife. The visits serves only to enhance her fears that the apartment may be taken, the little pension upon which the couple lives may be rescinded.

As the little vignette draws to a close, the wife enters the room of Bernat, who is obviously profoundly demented, but for whom she cares as one would care for a baby. The sadness of her lonely life dissolves into tears of resigned hopelessness.


This is one of many of Goncz's poignant snapshots of his homeland under the rule of Soviet-based communism in the aftermath of World War II. His style is terse and direct, and strikes quickly and deeply at the sadness that accompanied the suppression of art and creative thought during this long, bleak period. Goncz's own generation knew little else but the colorlessness of four decades and his deeply human art helps us to feel what it must have meant to grow old and isolated in his time and place.


First published: 1980; first published in English by Garland, 1990. Translated by Katharina M. and Christopher C. Wilson.

Primary Source

Homecoming and Other Stories



Place Published




Page Count