While in The Bridge of Sighs my aims were specific—that is, to set a hard-boiled story in the context of communist Eastern Europe—with The Confession I wanted to make something larger and richer. Emil Brod had been an ideal entry-point into this series, as he was young and naive, and needed to learn step-by-step how to navigate his new republic, but for The Confession I wanted a man who was all too familiar with it—an adult.
Thus I focused on Ferenc Kolyeszar, the brooding, always-typing militiaman from the first book, who has a daughter and a marriage that is falling apart.
I began writing this book in Florence, Italy, and finished half of it before life began to imitate art: my own marriage began to crumble. And so, what began as a tale with levels of abstractness—how, indeed, could I know about the experience my character was going through?—suddenly became very real. After stalling for all of the summer of 2002, unable to write a word, I moved to Budapest and began to reexamine everything, and change it. While the book is certainly not autobiographical, like most writers I used the emotional reality of my own life to inform the development of my characters.
Reflecting my own life, the original draft was in some ways very confused, and in many ways much darker. That darkness came from my own emotions at the time of composition. T.S. Eliot, in Tradition and the Individual Talent, says:
Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.
And I think that was what made the first draft so difficult. So, after a month’s rest, I edited without the intrusion of emotion, resulting in the present volume.
Each book means something different, and The Confession will always be special to me because it was composed during, and was largely shaped by, a difficult period of my own life. Its original title, which was set aside in favor of this one, was Submission, which to me reflects the basic theme of the book, and my own realization at that time: Sometimes in life you can work as hard as you like to repair what’s wrong, but in the process either make no difference, or make things worse. In those moments, the only thing left to you is quiet submission.