The Devil is a Black Dog | Sándor Jászberényi

THE DEVIL IS A BLACK DOG is a powerful collection of short stories that blend reality and fiction. Author Sándor Jászberényi is a Hungarian writer and war correspondent, the stuff this guy has covered and witnessed is enough to destroy many people’s souls and minds but the guy is a master at what he does and these stories, while not for the feint hearted, are fantastic, but don’t take my word for it, check out Kernel Fi’s review of the entire book. THE DEVIL IS A BLACK DOG is out now from the folks at Scribe Publications, you will find this in bookstores or you can obtain it HERE in paperback and e-book. Enjoy Fi’s review……all the best…..JK.

 

The Devil is a Black Dog Book Cover image

 

BY FIONA FYFE 

Sándor Jászberényi is a highly acclaimed photo-journalist from Hungary. Combining fact with fiction he has crafted nineteen short stories based on his own raw experiences in war-torn Africa and the Middle East. The characters he has created are the faces behind the news stories and those confronting and heart-stopping photographs that so capture our attention as consumers of media.

On assignment in such far-flung and devastated places as Darfur, N’Djamena and Cairo, these reporters and their telescopic lenses are faced with astonishing acts of brutality. The toll exacted on each individual by relentless exposure to violence, is staggering. They may be observers and scribes but somehow the atrocities they witness are tantamount to being on the front line or pulling a trigger. Most of them try and alleviate their psychological distress by imbibing to reckless levels. One man absorbs himself in a naval game on his smartphone and retreats into a world of flotillas, frigates and buccaneers while the real-life horror plays out around him.

When I think of the kinds of jobs that are highly stressful I think of combat soldiers, surgeons, police and paramedics. Even my previous life as a criminal defence lawyer was up there with early heart attack-inducing stress and strain. Until I read THE DEVIL IS A BLACK DOG though, it had never occurred to me just how distressing and traumatic it must be to live the life of a foreign correspondent. 60 Minutes sensationalism never seems realistic to me and unless a journalist is captured or worse, I never give their role much consideration.

Sándor Jászberényi has covered the Darfur crisis, the revolutions in Libya and Egypt, the war in Gaza and the Houthis uprising in Yemen. He has taken his life in his hands interviewing numerous armed and aggro Islamist groups. Presently he resides in Cairo and works as a correspondent for The Egypt Independent and various Hungarian newspapers. Undoubtedly he brings first hand experience from the coalface of conflict to this collection of dark and disturbing stories.

 

Sándor Jászberényi Author image

 

The story of the title for THE DEVIL IS A BLACK DOG is about a small Arabic village that is being terrorised by a feral black dog. As the dog causes increasing carnage amongst the villagers, he starts to take on a supernatural quality. This is suddenly more than just a rogue animal with a propensity for killing. This menacing beast lurks in the shadows with a growing taste for human flesh. He is too big to be taken down with a pistol and his kills involve maniacal and frenzied mutilation. Does the black dog, with his unpredictability and monstrous infamy, represent the sum of all fears?

Matt Henderson Ellis does a fine job of translating the author’s work. Jászberényi has an evocative style of writing reminiscent of Graham Greene or Ernest Hemingway. The poetry of his expression is not lost in translation.

The Fever recalls a Hungarian correspondent sick with a virulent disease that is rapidly shutting down his central nervous system and sending him blind. He is travelling through Sudan in a thirty year old Ford Cortina with his prostitute lover. Resigned to death, the end comes amid hallucinations and memories of his travels in Abuja, Mombasa and Aden. It could have been in any one of these exotic lands that he contracted the pathogen that will end his days.

He concedes that he “never wanted to live a sensible life. I desired neither family nor children and when I found myself in possession of both, the enterprise wound up a dismal failure….I am not afraid. I didn’t want a sensible death either.” Reading this story invites comparisons between Greene’s characters in THE QUIET AMERICAN. The protagonist in The Fever is immediately a Hungarian version of Fowler and Zeinab, his $5 whore is a fitting reproduction of Phuong.

In Taking Trinidad, a woman is charged with adultery and is publicly stoned to death by her husband, in-laws and her community. Buried waist deep in a pit and wearing an old flour sack over her head, she is pelted with rocks until the material is soaked with blood and she expires. The soldiers standing nearby appear macabrely disinterested. The event takes on a sporting quality with men from the local Mosque hurling stones amid a carnival-type atmosphere. The effect of this story is stomach-churning and harrowing and not for the faint-hearted.

 

The Devil is a Black Dog Book Cover image

 

In Something About the Job, Marosh, a jaded reporter whose editor has tried to gently send him out to pasture, agrees to accompany a young female photo-journalist to Chad. The rookie’s back-story is tragic and Marosh unknowingly bears witness to history repeating itself. Inevitably he returns to type and films the carnage and the corpses just like in the good old days when his work was considered cutting edge.

There is a fatalistic quality to these stories. The world of the reporter in war-ravaged countries is one of brutish trauma and nihilism. Even amid the ceasefire or in the quiet, solitary moments, the darkness reaches out a chilly hand to remind each individual that savagery and barbarity are never far away.

If the devil is a black dog, he is also to be found in the hearts and minds of so much of humanity. Jászberényi suggests that war and corrupt ideology summon a twisted psychology to fester amongst those of us caught in its nucleus. If all bets are off, if we choose to live and die by the sword then we are bereft of the normal rules of civility and common human decency.

For those of us who are the bystanders and record-keepers, the impact is no less devastating or scarring. In some ways this book is a commentary on the effects of post-traumatic stress as experienced by the intrepid correspondents who daily place their lives and sanity on the line in the name of reportage. If you tend toward the squeamish or have an aversion to strong violence, handle these stories with care.

 

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Kernel Fiona was a criminal defence lawyer in a former life and now critiques books and writes short stories. She can’t resist spending large tracts of time in libraries, book shops and at writer’s festivals. Hopelessly in love with the written word, she told JK when applying for a writing position that “I would rather read then breathe” – I knew I had my next reviewer right then. You can catch her and her tweets at @FionaJayneFyfe1

** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.