Caption:Fekete István's birthplace; Young István; Vuk; "Kele" Book cover ; Adult photo
Fekete István, Nature Author
Dr. Dora Józsefné, Tima Irma
“Time may pass; beauty and kindness, love and truth never pass with the centuries, never pass with men, but are eternal, like the ethereal truth, of which everyone receives as much as he deserves.” (Fekete István)
The life of Fekete István began in Gölle, Somogy County on January 25, 1900. His father, Fekete Árpád was a principal and teacher at the village school. István attended the same school for his first four years.
His father was very strict, not shirking from using the stick to discipline his children. Of course, his children had to be the best in town!
István had his first hunting adventure when he was only 3 years old. Later in life he wrote about this experience in his autobiographical novel “Ballagó idő”. He started to write at an early age and wrote short poems and sketches about his outdoor hikes. His first poem was published in 1916 in a student magazine.
As the family grew, his father decided to move to the city of Kaposvár, where his children would be able to have a better education. After struggling in the city school (he flunked), his father registered István in an all boys’ school, where he “found himself”, although he was bored and kept dreaming of green fields, forests and nature.
In 1917, he was called to military service. During that time, he graduated from the army high school, and after the war was accepted at the Debrecen Gazdasági Akadémia (Agrarian Academy) in 1923, followed by the Magyar Királyi Gazdasági Akadémia (the Royal Hungarian Agrarian Academy) in Magyaróvár.
He started his first job as an agriculturist in Bakóca, Baranya County for Count Mailáth György. This is where he met his future wife, the local doctor’s daughter, Piller Edit. Edit’s father had escaped from the Vajdaság area of southern Hungary after the Trianon treaty. István fell for the always smiling Edit, maybe because he himself was the quiet type.
After their marriage they moved to Ajka, where he obtained a position at a model farm. This is where their daughter and son were born. The daughter became a nun, later a principal in an all-girls’ high school in Austria. His son, István Jr., took part in the 1956 Revolution, and therefore had to leave Hungary. He went first to Canada, and currently lives in the U.S.
Fekete István Sr. received an offer at the Agricultural Ministry in Budapest, and the family moved to the capital.
On the side he wrote articles for the hunting magazine Nimród, whose editor was Kittenberger Kálmán (Africa explorer, zoologist, hunter and travel writer). The two men became good friends when he wrote his first novel, “Koppányi aga testamentuma” (The Testament of Koppányi Aga). The book won 1st prize in the novel competition of the Királyi Magyar Egyetemi Nyomda (The Royal Hungarian University Press). It was an outstanding success, and became so well known that today every child and grown-up is familiar with the story.
István loved nature. He went on long hikes, hunted and traveled the country. He observed the animals in their habitats, their life habits, and he wrote down his experiences so true to life as no one else has. He was a master of forest and animal literature. His stories of young people and animals captivated children and grownups alike. His animal stories became part of the school curriculum.
After WWII, his writing was not published due to his anti-Communist, old-fashioned and religious beliefs. He was expelled from the Writer’s League. The AVO (secret police) arrested him, he lost one of his eyes and one kidney was smashed during a beating. He was thrown out of a car and was found the following morning by a passerby front of the János hospital in Budapest.
He recovered, and created the most true-to-life, most beautiful animal stories in world literature: “Lutra”, “Kele”, “Bogáncs”, “Csí”, “Vuk”, just to mention a few. Every one of them leaves a lasting memory in the reader’s mind.
The most widely read is “Tϋskevár” – there is not a Hungarian child who has not read the book. The story continues in “Téli berek”. The heroes of these stories became ideals for children. They learned to love nature, animal and plant life in the fields, forests and waters. He never exaggerated anything, he wrote the truth, the way he experienced nature. He was also a workaholic; he would tour the fields for days, then would write for days.
Many of his novels were made into films to the delight of children.
His final work was a collection of his own writings, a total of five hundred novels.
His strictest critic was his wife Edit, and he listened to her. Edit was a sick woman, manic depressive. István’s life was hell one day, heaven the next. Yet he stayed with her until his death in 1970. Edit lived longer and she took care of his grave at the Farkasréti Cemetery. After her death, both were buried in Gölle, where he had been the happiest. Bogáncs, their favorite dog was buried in the same grave.
Many schools were named after Fekete István, as were many establishment and streets. There is no family in Hungary whose library does not contain Fekete István’s books.
Among the awards bestowed on Fekete István was the József Attila award in 1960. He received the highest (gold) version of the Labor Award (Munka Érdemrend) on his 70th birthday.
Dr. Dora Józsefné, née Tima Irma is a retired school principal enjoying her “Golden Days”. This article was translated from the Hungarian original by her sister, our Webmaster Karolina Tima Szabo.
(Editor's note: There is a Fekete István museum in Dombovár, displaying his works and some personal effects.)