This story of 15 year old Gyuri, as seen through his own eyes, begins with his Jewish family in Budapest in 1944.
At the beginning the protagonist is like any other boy on the threshold of manhood, embarrassed by displays of emotion, looking on distastefully at his father and stepmother’s affection for each other. Yet he too finds his emotions awakening and becomes attached to a girl living in the same apartment block.
Although we as readers are privileged and know the import of the events that are unfolding, Guyuri talks matter-of-factly about the ominous signs in his home city: the mandatory wearing of the yellow star, his father’s shopping preparations as he is called to a ‘labour’ camp, and then his own subsequent journey from working at a refinery for the war effort to Auschwitz. He is told that by taking the train he will be given a worthy job and, like all adventurous and naive boys of his age, volunteers for this opportunity with enthusiasm.
Briefly in Auschwitz, Guyuri is soon transferred to another concentration camp and it is here that both he and the reader are surprised by the acceptance of the slow, incremental degradation he observes in himself and in others.
His experiences not only age his body into that of a decrepit old man but also engender a wisdom that many who live to 100 years may never attain. Guyuri realises that survival is only possible because people live their lives one step at a time: to live with the knowledge of what is to come would be an unbearable burden.
Simply written, with some heartbreaking moments (“I would like to live a little longer in this beautiful concentration camp"), it is Guyuri’s astonishing, unique voice that makes this a hugely affecting and remarkable tale.