Epépé (translated only 6 years ago into English as Metropole) reads like something out of an outdated nightmare. An academic linguist, speaker and connoisseur of more than a dozen languages finds himself, by fault of a misconnected flight, in an unknown country where communication proves impossible. No visible tourist information, no train stations or waterways, just an incomprehensible language and writing system in a land of too many busy people.
Today of course there would be the internet, or at least your phone’s GPS system to give you an idea of where in the world you were. Not such luck for our protagonist Budaï who happens to have been dreamt up by Hungarian writer Ferenc Karinthy in 1970. He is without mobile phone of course, desperately deciphering the local phone book in search of a helpful number. Without Google Translate or voice recognition software he can only pronounce queries in various languages to the blank stares of those before him.
Budaï’s ordeal is one of desperate loneliness among the masses, and of a sudden, deep incomprehension of the world around him. As days turn to weeks, he attempts, with not much luck, to decipher the local language, to communicate with other potentially lost souls, and to navigate the dense metropolis which surrounds him, endlessly.
Epépé is a work of sociology and veiled political criticism as well as world-class literature. It is also a frightening peek into an existence where, like a small child, our protagonist desperately seeks communication and understanding through a babbling which no one around him understands. Karinthy’s masterpiece forces us to reconsider the central importance of language and communication in our lives, and question how we, like Budaï, would cope without it, and what we would become.