Review: The Ant Heap, by Margit Kaffka

I knew nothing about Margit Kaffka until I picked up this book, which includes an extensive introduction describing  her life and career.  Kaffka was born in Hungary in 1880, and overcame extreme prejudice to establish a literary career.  She was educated in a convent, and became a feminist thinker long before the world at large knew of such things.  She was not afraid to take unpopular positions, and spoke out against World War I.  Her life was cut short by Spanish Influenza, and the world lost an important female voice.

With that background, I was keen to dive into The Ant Heap, a novella of life in a convent school.  This is not a story of piety and virtue; rather, Kaffka depicts the very human nature of nuns and priests.  There are flirtations, and inappropriate alliances.  And there’s ambition, especially after the convent’s Mother Superior passes away.

The Ant Heap was probably controversial when first published.  However, I found it boring and a little trite.  The characters were not well-developed and I felt no emotional attachment.  The language is very basic. Usually I can find at least one quote-worthy sentence, but not this time.  I am inclined to blame this on the translation.  And that’s a shame, because I can’t help feeling I’ve missed out on something.

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