We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.

The Photographer at Sixteen

On sale

31st January 2019

Price: £9.99

Select a format

Selected: ebook / ISBN-13: 9780857058522

Disclosure: If you buy products using the retailer buttons above, we may earn a commission from the retailers you visit.

A poet’s memoir of his mother that flows backwards through time, through a tumultuous period of European history – a tender and yet unsparing autobiographical journey.

**RADIO 4’s BOOK OF THE WEEK FROM 15 March 2021**

“A truly remarkable book . . . fiercely compelling” EDMUND DE WAAL


“I’ve read no memoir that moved me more” MIRANDA SEYMOUR

“The writing is always scrupulous . . . [a] compelling memoir” BLAKE MORRISON

“Beautifully written and utterly compelling” Sunday Times

“An original, probingly thoughtful memoir” EVA HOFFMANN

In July 1975, George Szirtes’ mother, Magda, died in an ambulance, on her way to hospital after attempting to take her own life. She was fifty-one years old. This memoir is an attempt to make sense of what came before, to re-construct who Magda Szirtes really was. The Photographer at Sixteen moves from her death, spooling backwards through her years as a mother, through sickness and exile in England, the family’s flight from Hungary in 1956, her time in two concentration camps, her girlhood as an ambitious photographer and her vanished family in Transylvania.

The woman who emerges, fleetingly, fragmentarily – with her absolutism, her contradictions, her beauty – is utterly captivating. What were the terrors and obsessions that drove her? The Photographer at Sixteen reveals a life that is at Magda Szirtes from the depths of the end to the comparable safety of the photographer’s studio where she first appears as a small child. It is a book born of curiosity, guilt and love.


In this quest to understand the enigma of his mother 's life and death, George Szirtes travels back from personal memory to deeper history, as he reconstructs his family's tragedy-darkened past . . . An original, probingly thoughtful memoir whose restraint only increases its poignancy and impact
In this extraordinary, hybrid book - part memoir, part history, part poetic journey - Szirtes re-makes the life of his mother, tracing her childhood in Europe's darkest period to her life in Britain after the Hungarian uprising. He brilliantly captures how sometimes it's those closest to us who remain the most mysterious.
Edmund de Waal, author of THE HARE WITH THE AMBER EYES
A truly remarkable book about identity, image and memory. It is fiercely compelling.
Keiron Pim, author of JUMPIN' JACK FLASH
Magda Szirtes is intense, untameable, tantalising and compelling. George Szirtes is tender and astute in trying to understand her, percipient in analysing the enduring fragments of her life -- letters, tape-recordings, photographs, memories -- yet ever-aware of how little it is possible to know. The result is engrossing and profoundly moving.
Miranda Seymour, Financial Times
Unforgettably sad . . . Szirtes has made [his mother's] monument. It is a courageous and remarkable achievement. I've read no memoir that moved me more.
Charlie Connelly, New European
A book full of warmth, grief, curiosity, wisdom, staggering anecdotes and a coming to terms with the vicissitudes of 20th-century history . . . [a] highly original telling of the author's mother's life and the heartrending events through which she lived.
Ian Critchley, Sunday Times
Szirtes uses his poet's eye to build images and details that bring his mother superbly to life . . . [this] is a beautifully written and utterly compelling narrative.
Anne Sebba, Spectator
[An] exquisitely told memoir . . . By telling the story of his mother's life backwards Szirtes has performed a sort of conjuring trick . . . Not simply a memoir but a hybrid of history and biography interspersed with photographs, poems and several standout moments
Boyd Tonkin, Arts Desk
As isolated snapshots build into a family portrait, and a historical fresco, we grasp the wider picture . . . beautiful, devastating
Fiona Capp, Sydney Morning Herald
Like a film in reverse, this narrative structure not only reclaims a time of innocence and hope but also functions as a form of healing, an undoing of her pain.
Blake Morrison, Guardian
The writing is always scrupulous . . . Knowledge is partly invention, Szirtes says, memory is mostly invention, and 'the trick is to invent the truth.' It may be a trick but it's one he pulls off brilliantly in this compelling memoir.
Ariane Banks, Tablet
He works, frame by frame, through a sequence of ever-older photographs, employing her own chosen medium to interrogate the mystery of her existence, and the fallibility of memory
Paul Bailey, Literary Review
Exceptional . . . There is much more to this scrupulously written memoir than I have been able to convey. There are photographs throughout the text, but those in the final pages are heartbreaking.
Paul Bailey, Literary Review.
Exceptional . . . An act of love.