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Francine Parling



Francine Parling was born in 1970 in Santa Barbara, California. In 1994 she spent an academic year studying in Budapest, Hungary. There she found Granta.



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In 1994, I was awarded scholarship for an academic year of study in Budapest, Hungary. I didn’t speak Hungarian, wasn’t Hungarian, nor was my major remotely related, but somehow I convinced a panel of assorted community members that I was worth the investment.

In the early 1990s, many Westerners who made their way to Budapest where speculators, born-again Christians, repatriating ‘56ers, or their 20 something kids. In addition, in the early 1990s, Hungary had eliminated Russian as a compulsory language study in school, so while the former Russian teachers went through English language retraining, Peace Corps, along with other EFL cowboys, filled the need for English teachers.

I was none of these.

Life in Budapest in the early ‘90s was bleak for the average Hungarian. While we Westerners touted it as "the fall of Communism," many Hungarians referred to it as "the change in the system." High unemployment, along with the loss of highly subsidized cultural, and social benefits, was devastating for many people. One Hungarian summed up this transition as “those who didn’t know and didn’t have the money [...] became the losers of the change.”

Life in Budapest was tough for me, too. I lived alone, in a rented apartment that was owned by a Hungarian journalist who had left her hundreds of books in the apartment, along with a broken TV. I had no formal access to university, a 5 minute international phone call costing nearly half of my weekly budget, and accessible internet connectivity not yet available, I had a lot of time on my hands and not a whole heck of a lot of money.

At least the wine was cheap.

Eventually, I figured out how to get a lending card from the British Council library and its American counterpart. I also located the few English language bookstores in town. And it was in one of these that I discovered Granta.

I immediately loved the structure of the magazine from my first read. Each issue is loosely centered around a theme like New World, The Body, Death, or Losers. The content is produced through variety of mediums: poetry, photography, short fiction, and personal essay.

Granta, with its literary manna, became a consolation for those hard months in Budapest. These books were my company; I would tuck away quotes, words, and stanzas from poems for cheer and, more often than not, commiseration. While I gradually curated a small group of friends, I spent much of my time in silence, alone. In these books, I could find a space from the grinding loneliness; they bonded me to world and language community that I missed more than I ever thought I could.

Today, nearly a quarter century later, my memories of Hungary are sepia-hued; I don’t even really recognize myself in the few photos I’ve kept. But I still have my subscription to Granta. At one time, I loved reading so much that I thought about being a librarian.

Now, I find most reading has become something I’ve delegated to a rarely attempted To-Do list. But, thankfully, I still find happiness to be found in the newest Granta, freshly shucked from its mailing wrapper or a thumb-thru of those first issues I chanced upon so many years ago in Budapest. Reading Granta is something I still find worth in doing.