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My Happy Days In Hell (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

György Faludy
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 May 2010
My Happy Days in Hell (1962) is Gyorgy Faludy's grimly beautiful autobiography of his battle to survive tyranny and oppression. Fleeing Hungary in 1938 as the German army approaches, acclaimed poet Faludy journeys to Paris, where he finds a lover but merely a cursory asylum. When the French capitulate to the Nazis, Faludy travels to North Africa, then on to America, where he volunteers for military service. Missing his homeland and determined to do the right thing, he returns - only to be imprisoned, tortured, and slowly starved, eventually becoming one of only twenty-one survivors of his camp.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (6 May 2010)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0141193204
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141193205
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 12.9 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 341,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

A man whose moral compass in all the great questions of the twentieth century has never deviated from the correct direction, no matter what the cost to himself (Telegraph)

Confronts the monoliths of 20th century totalitarianism and, surprisingly, triumphs. (London Review of Books)

[The series] sheds remarkable light on the literature, culture and politics of the region...anyone coming fresh to the field will be captivated by the richness, variety, humour and pathos of a classic literature that, through a shared historical experience, transcends national and linguistic boundaries. (CJ Schüler Independent on Sunday)

This [series] is a wonderful idea ... They are absurdist parables, by turns hilarious, unsettling and enigmatic. (Nicholas Lezard Guardian)

I urge you to go and read them. (Adam Thirlwell New Statesman)

This new series of Central European Classics is important well beyond simply providing 'good reads'. (Stephen Vizinczey Daily Telegraph)

About the Author

György Faludy (1910-2006) was raised and died in Hungary but spent much of his long life in various forms of exile. A poet and translator, Faludy was imprisoned by the Communist authorities in post-war Hungary where he was subjected to the most terrible treatment. My Happy Days in Hell takes these experiences and makes them into an extraordinary and highly enjoyable work of art.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Graphic, moving and very funny 19 April 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This unclassifiable book is both an autobiography and a novel. Much seems re-imagined from memory but the overall effect is of devastating truthfulness.

Faludi made no attempt in this book to conceal his own enormous ego but it was this, translated into a life force, and his inner strength which got him through the most appalling experiences... and gave him some of his greatest pleasures.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary autobiography 14 Jun 2012
Format:Paperback
It has been said that Faludy is the man we would all like to be. While that may be an exaggeration, his remarkable life story, or at least the first half of it, as he lived for 50 years after writing this autobiography, is inspiring and uplifting. I recommend this book to anyone. It is a pity that the sequel to this autobiography has apparently never been translated into English.
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5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful writing 11 April 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
My best loved novel from Hungarian literature. All true, it's amazing what people can go through and survive. Very talented writer.
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5 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BEST book I have ever read! 26 Nov 2010
By zclmc
Format:Paperback
I would recommend this book to anyone, the best book I have ever read! They should make it compulsory to read it!!!
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Orwell's 1984 was really 1948: Hungary under communist takeover 26 Dec 2006
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
George, or Gyorgy, Faludy died at 95 on the first of this last September. Quite a character, even more than this autobiography (some call it an 'autobiographical novel'). This is his classic, now nearly forgotten in the West, account of his early life under first fascist and then communist tyranny, My Happy Days in Hell. He tells here of the period of flight from fascist Hungary in 1938, his escape through a France capitulating to Hitler in turn, and his North African brief but evocatively detailed stay. Roosevelt enables him to gain American asylum. There, he serves in the military and for the Free Hungary Movement. In 1946, compelled by his 'radical liberalism' and democratic socialist principles to help his country, he returns. His account of how life is endured under communist dictatorship is classic. Soon, he is arrested on farcical charges as a Titoist and Yank spy, and sentenced at the AVO secret police's dungeon (the same site had been used by the Nazis and their Arrow Cross sympathizers in WWII, symbolically) to death. Commuted to 25 years, he then goes through two prisons on his way to a labour camp for 1300 intellectuals where he faces slow starvation over the next three years, from 1950-1953. After this book ends with the release of the prisoners in the wake of Stalin's death, he served Hungary again, until he again faced a second exile after the defeat of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. He never shirked a challenge.

In his memoir, he notes that he, like his professorial father, preferred to live outside of Hungary even as he longed for his homeland. Too restrictive for dreamers and idealists, Hungary, with its extraordinarily complicated language and its ethnic distinction from the Slavic and Germanic peoples who surround its great plains, after WWI lost half of its homeland. Isolated in the center of Europe by terrain and language, it sits between East and West, an Asian people who have endured over a millennium at the continental center. This nation commanded Faludy's loyalty yet chafed his cosmopolitan intellect and inquisitive nature. He faced fourteen years in prison for an anti-Hitler poem. He had fled, after its fascist Horthy regime had drafted him in November 1938 into its army, allied with the Nazis. In his late twenties, Faludy was already an acclaimed poet, best known for his translations of another jailbird rascal, the medieval balladeer François Villon.

His obituary revealed his later life to be as exciting as the period, from 1938 to 1953, described in Happy Days. I encourage you to find out more about his fascinating subsequent literary career and love life in and out of Hungary. You will be surprised, I guarantee you.

Reminding myself when I read his obituary how I had always meant to read his autobiography, I hunted down a dog-eared and spine-slanted library copy, the only one in my vast city. The large volume, over 450 small-type pages, showed, at least a few decades ago after its English-language translation (rare from Hungarian in that Kathleen Szasz's 1962 rendering counters sinuously the often jarring transfer from this native language into English; many books from Hungarian flop about like dying fish in their clumsy anglicised gasps), that many readers had preceded me in their journey through the fifteen years that Faludy narrates. If published today, it'd probably reveal more of Faludy's erotic side; curiously, he does not mention in these pages his own Jewish background. Secular and a gadfly, he could submit to no ideal except, and grudgingly, the categorical imperative. It took me a few weeks on and off to finish this long book, but I enjoyed it more by the halfway point, when he returns to the purported People's Republic and exposes its shams. Now, I only wish its sequel published in 2000 was translated.

For readers in today's climate where as always there are only those few who would sacrifice themselves for an ideal against tyranny, Faludy's experiences remind us of how most of us would choose to survive if we were faced with deadly oppression. Perhaps flight lacks the glamour of rebellion, but those who flee live to fight on another day, as the cliché goes. Chapter one opens as he recalls a dinner party given for a British MP in the wake of Munich and appeasement. Faced with the fact that the West would let Hitler do as he pleased, the guests in Budapest lamented their fate. One Catholic poet fervently vows that he will stand up to the Nazis, `even if he had to give his life for Christianity, for social justice and for Hungary's independence.' (11) The MP responds sadly that when Hitler marched in, their heroic poses would accomplish nothing but their arrests and hangings- in secret so as to discourage martyrs. He urges them all to flee. `After the war, however, we could return and serve the ideals for which, today, we would sacrifice ourselves in vain.' (12) The folks at the party, mostly young, ignore the MP; they merely vent and rant against Chamberlain. Two months later, all but the Catholic poet had left Hungary, many for America or England.

Supporting his poetic practice with his work as a left-wing journalist, Faludy had provoked the fascist Arrow Cross. Briefly jailed, refusing to continue to fight in its militia, Faludy escapes to France, where however the Germans conquer and divide that country next. Trapped in Marseilles, he and thousands of refugees seek asylum. He boards a ship. But, spooked, he then disembarks with his first wife. The next day, that ship sinks, blown up by a mine. Along with a colourfully drawn assortment of flim-flam men and women of easy virtue. Faludy seeks asylum in North Africa. The vagaries of diplomatic sovereignty in French and Spanish territories there manage to, as will be dramatised in the film 'Casablanca' a couple of years later, keep Faludy sporadically secure. His limbo allows him excursions amidst the Berber tribesmen. He describes their customs, brutality, and grace through elegantly rendered vignettes. His powers of recall, which appear unbelievable at this stage of his tale-telling, gain credence later when he tells us how in prison he memorised poems he created in his mind- his only way of recording them- and recalled them daily. Incrementally, he added to his retentive storehouse with verse, anecdote, and witness for years on end. His ability to retreat into his intellectual and artistic mnemonics allowed him the chance to endure within himself. There he cultivated the fortitude to survive the slow starvation, of a less than a thousand calories a day, inflicted upon him and his fellow prisoners left in the open, under communist hard labour, sixteen or even twenty hours a day.

Find this gripping account. Although I find somewhat unbelievable its meticulous re-creation of details from these fifteen years, you do learn how he survived and found ironically 'happy days in hell' by his own inner strength, powers of imagination, and command of retention of so many memorable incidents. I could tell much more, but read the book instead. This book deserves a reprint. It's a good companion to find out how the communists took over in the postwar years, and what happened before the 1956 uprising commemorated this past year and documented most recently in Victor Sebestyen's "Twelve Days." (This review edited from a longer article to appear in the Belfast on-line journal The Blanket)
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 1938-53: fleeing fascism, finding Stalinism, enduring both 27 Dec 2006
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
George, or Gyorgy, Faludy died at 95 on the first of this last September. Quite a character, even more than this autobiography (some call it an 'autobiographical novel'). This is his classic, now nearly forgotten in the West, account of his early life under first fascist and then communist tyranny, My Happy Days in Hell. He tells here of the period of flight from fascist Hungary in 1938, his escape through a France capitulating to Hitler in turn, and his North African brief but evocatively detailed stay. Roosevelt enables him to gain American asylum. There, he serves in the military and for the Free Hungary Movement. In 1946, compelled by his 'radical liberalism' and democratic socialist principles to help his country, he returns. His account of how life is endured under communist dictatorship is classic. Soon, he is arrested on farcical charges as a Titoist and Yank spy, and sentenced at the AVO secret police's dungeon (the same site had been used by the Nazis and their Arrow Cross sympathizers in WWII, symbolically) to death. Commuted to 25 years, he then goes through two prisons on his way to a labour camp for 1300 intellectuals where he faces slow starvation over the next three years, from 1950-1953. After this book ends with the release of the prisoners in the wake of Stalin's death, he served Hungary again, until he again faced a second exile after the defeat of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. He never shirked a challenge.

In his memoir, he notes that he, like his professorial father, preferred to live outside of Hungary even as he longed for his homeland. Too restrictive for dreamers and idealists, Hungary, with its extraordinarily complicated language and its ethnic distinction from the Slavic and Germanic peoples who surround its great plains, after WWI lost half of its homeland. Isolated in the center of Europe by terrain and language, it sits between East and West, an Asian people who have endured over a millennium at the continental center. This nation commanded Faludy's loyalty yet chafed his cosmopolitan intellect and inquisitive nature. He faced fourteen years in prison for an anti-Hitler poem. He had fled, after its fascist Horthy regime had drafted him in November 1938 into its army, allied with the Nazis. In his late twenties, Faludy was already an acclaimed poet, best known for his translations of another jailbird rascal, the medieval balladeer François Villon.

His obituary revealed his later life to be as exciting as the period, from 1938 to 1953, described in Happy Days. I encourage you to find out more about his fascinating subsequent literary career and love life in and out of Hungary. You will be surprised, I guarantee you.

Reminding myself when I read his obituary how I had always meant to read his autobiography, I hunted down a dog-eared and spine-slanted library copy, the only one in my vast city. The large volume, over 450 small-type pages, showed, at least a few decades ago after its English-language translation (rare from Hungarian in that Kathleen Szasz's 1962 rendering counters sinuously the often jarring transfer from this native language into English; many books from Hungarian flop about like dying fish in their clumsy anglicised gasps), that many readers had preceded me in their journey through the fifteen years that Faludy narrates. If published today, it'd probably reveal more of Faludy's erotic side; curiously, he does not mention in these pages his own Jewish background. Secular and a gadfly, he could submit to no ideal except, and grudgingly, the categorical imperative. It took me a few weeks on and off to finish this long book, but I enjoyed it more by the halfway point, when he returns to the purported People's Republic and exposes its shams. Now, I only wish its sequel published in 2000 was translated.

For readers in today's climate where as always there are only those few who would sacrifice themselves for an ideal against tyranny, Faludy's experiences remind us of how most of us would choose to survive if we were faced with deadly oppression. Perhaps flight lacks the glamour of rebellion, but those who flee live to fight on another day, as the cliché goes. Chapter one opens as he recalls a dinner party given for a British MP in the wake of Munich and appeasement. Faced with the fact that the West would let Hitler do as he pleased, the guests in Budapest lamented their fate. One Catholic poet fervently vows that he will stand up to the Nazis, `even if he had to give his life for Christianity, for social justice and for Hungary's independence.' (11) The MP responds sadly that when Hitler marched in, their heroic poses would accomplish nothing but their arrests and hangings- in secret so as to discourage martyrs. He urges them all to flee. `After the war, however, we could return and serve the ideals for which, today, we would sacrifice ourselves in vain.' (12) The folks at the party, mostly young, ignore the MP; they merely vent and rant against Chamberlain. Two months later, all but the Catholic poet had left Hungary, many for America or England.

Supporting his poetic practice with his work as a left-wing journalist, Faludy had provoked the fascist Arrow Cross. Briefly jailed, refusing to continue to fight in its militia, Faludy escapes to France, where however the Germans conquer and divide that country next. Trapped in Marseilles, he and thousands of refugees seek asylum. He boards a ship. But, spooked, he then disembarks with his first wife. The next day, that ship sinks, blown up by a mine. Along with a colourfully drawn assortment of flim-flam men and women of easy virtue. Faludy seeks asylum in North Africa. The vagaries of diplomatic sovereignty in French and Spanish territories there manage to, as will be dramatised in the film 'Casablanca' a couple of years later, keep Faludy sporadically secure. His limbo allows him excursions amidst the Berber tribesmen. He describes their customs, brutality, and grace through elegantly rendered vignettes. His powers of recall, which appear unbelievable at this stage of his tale-telling, gain credence later when he tells us how in prison he memorised poems he created in his mind- his only way of recording them- and recalled them daily. Incrementally, he added to his retentive storehouse with verse, anecdote, and witness for years on end. His ability to retreat into his intellectual and artistic mnemonics allowed him the chance to endure within himself. There he cultivated the fortitude to survive the slow starvation, of a less than a thousand calories a day, inflicted upon him and his fellow prisoners left in the open, under communist hard labour, sixteen or even twenty hours a day.

Find this gripping account. Although I find somewhat unbelievable its meticulous re-creation of details from these fifteen years, you do learn how he survived and found ironically 'happy days in hell' by his own inner strength, powers of imagination, and command of retention of so many memorable incidents. I could tell much more, but read the book instead. This book deserves a reprint. It's a good companion to find out how the communists took over in the postwar years, and what happened before the 1956 uprising commemorated this past year and documented most recently in Victor Sebestyen's "Twelve Days." (This review edited from a longer article to appear in the Belfast on-line journal The Blanket)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My Happy Days in Hell review 12 Jan 2013
By David Hochman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
My Happy Days in Hell is a book that I read many years ago. I was glad to get it from Amazon because besides being a
delightful book to read, it was an education for me when I read it. It teaches you that a well stocked mind can serve you
even in the most harrowing of circumstances. So glad to come across this book again
5.0 out of 5 stars Treasure from Hungarian literature 27 Nov 2012
By Anna - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
An amazing personality, an incredible story, and a master of language. There are several small novels inside, sometimes a sentence alone comes up to a whole book. For anyone who is interested in the stalinist years in Eastern Europe this is a must read.
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