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Hungarian Dances [Hardcover]

Jessica Duchen
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
RRP: £19.99
Price: £18.58 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

6 Mar 2008

Do you ever wish that you could be someone else? Just step out of your life and wake up as someone new?


Karinas life was once mapped out for her she was meant to follow in the footsteps of her Hungarian grandmother, a world-famous violinist.


Instead, shes a teacher, a mum and wife to Julian, a very English husband whos not always in step with her. But when disaster befalls her best friend, Karina feels forced to question the very foundations of her existence. Encouraged by a chance encounter with a like-minded musician, she begins to delve into her grandmothers Gypsy past, and to discover the secrets of her Hungarian family history. Life will never be the same again.


Like most people, Karina isnt sure the life she chose was the right one. But she is willing to take drastic steps to change it.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (6 Mar 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340933577
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340933572
  • Product Dimensions: 3.6 x 16.2 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,003,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"Enthralling...Jessica writes with an unpredictable and original voice and a dazzling perceptiveness" JOANNA LUMLEY on SONGS OF TRIUMPHANT LOVE.

Jessica is a versatile wordsmith with a musical bias. Her output includes novels, biographies, plays, words&music projects, poetry for musical setting, music journalism and more. Her writing regularly appears in The Independent, BBC Music Magazine and Opera News, among other publications, and her music blog "JDCMB",, has attracted more than 1.5m readers.

Jessica and her musician colleagues are performing concert versions of her novels HUNGARIAN DANCES and ALICIA'S GIFT through 2013 and her plays respectively about Wagner and Messiaen are due for more performances. Please see EVENTS list below, or visit for full listings.

Her novels focus on the cross-currents between family generations, with music a recurring theme. All are now additionally available in e-book format.

Jessica's biographies of the composers Gabriel Fauré and Erich Wolfgang Korngold for Phaidon's 20th Century Composers series have met with wide acclaim.

Watch an extract from BBC TV's SACRED MUSIC series in which Jessica talks about Fauré's Requiem:

Product Description


‘Jessica Duchen's debut novel is captivating, imaginative and fascinating. As a musician and a mother, I recognized many of the scenarios and found the questions that were posed very poignant, both from a musical and personal perspective. The pace builds powerfully to a dramatic and ultimately very moving conclusion. Completely gripping!’


(Tasmin Little on RITES OF SPRING )

'Jessica Duchen has crafted a riveting drama set within the arts world . . . The neatly-composed plot charges to a climax as steadily as Ravels Bolro, with Duchen capturing well the inner world of the pubescent girl and the London classical music scene. For fans of Joanna Trollope and Russian composers alike.'

(Classic FM Magazine on RITES OF SPRING )

'An imaginative novel about a music writer, her violinist husband their daughter, with themes of miscommunication, perfectionism and adolescence.'


'The devil in this book is in the detail, the accumulation of every detail that disables middle class life when the unexpected lands, in this case a musically gifted child. You turn the pages with a tremble, in case you crush the fragile family. Unbearably real.'

(Yasmin Alibhai-Brown )

'Duchen skilfully balances the conventions of the genre with the authority of a writer who really knows her subject. ALICIA's GIFT is a wonderful read. But make sure you keep the Kleenex handy when you tackle it.'

(Music Teacher on Alicia's Gift )

'This is a very well written study of the problem of being and having a child prodigy.... it's a gripping read and it's very easy to get caught up in the excitement of wanting Alicia to succeed... I enjoyed this book a lot'

(Muso on Alicia's Gift )

Book Description

The thoughtful and compelling issues-based third novel from an author who has already gained a loyal fanbase. HUNGARIAN DANCES is a love story, a mystery and a tale of extraordinary personal transformation. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I cannot recommend this book highly enough. 10 Dec 2008
Hungarian Dances is a marvellous, intelligent, thought-provoking meditation upon the human condition; it explores the themes of identity, whether national or sexual, of the possibilities of love, of betrayal, and of the deep meaning of music, whilst carrying you along on a beautifully-crafted story that is utterly absorbing. It may be a cliché to say "I couldn't put this book down", but in my case it is a quite literal statement of fact. I read it throughout the night despite having several urgent matters to attend to and desperately needing my sleep! (Warning: clear your diary before picking this up!)

This is a wonderfully-written book; nothing in the prose jarred, nothing was extraneous. Don't let the slightly girly cover put you off - this is seriously good literature. As a professional opera singer, I am used to hurling any books which mention classical music at the wall in irritation; this one, with its accurate portrayals of the frustrations, disappointments, and sublime joys of music-making, resonated strongly in my soul.

If you like your novels to make you think, without being overtly pushed to do so, this is not to be missed. Glorious!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EXHILARATING! 23 April 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found this a most exciting and gratifying book for the plot as well as for its treatment of two passions of mine: music and Budapest. Jessica Duchen is well known as a writer on music and as a very successful novelist. She also has one of the best-run blogs on the net: you will find a lot about this book there, including photos of places in Budapest described in the book. You can also make the acquaintance of her cat Solti!
Like all good communicators, Jessica Duchen wears her learning lightly and writes in a limpid, flowing style which makes one want to keep reading. She manages to keep several plots going at once without ever losing the reader and always judges perfectly the right moment to move on so as to maintain suspense.
She has a vivid eye for detail and one easily empathizes with the characters: the scene in the run-down Budapest café where the gypsy father of Mimi, whom she wants to invite to her concert at the Liszt Academy, refuses furiously from the humiliation he feels at being dirty and unwashed and therefore unworthy of going to such a place is quite heartbreaking.
This book could be classed as "popular fiction", "a good read", "a real page-turner" but I think this would be to underestimate such a well-crafted and profound novel. Highly recommended. A paperback version is now available.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I didn't want it to end! 5 Aug 2008
This story gripped from the first page to the last. Although the central family in the story is Hungarian and musical, you don't need to be either to get totally caught up in their story as tumultous events, personal and political, overtake them. The narrative sweeps you along at a cracking pace that never lets up despite ranging back and forth between past and present. Jessica Duchen has created a hugely rich and appealing tapestry of characters, and her deftly interwoven sub-plots are filled with astute observations and wry insights about relationships and human behaviour. If the sign of a good book is that you don't want it to end, I was utterly bereft when it had finished.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure pleasure! 5 Aug 2008
Jesssica Duchen's third novel is an enchanting read. The characters are so vibrant and touching, they became friends I was sorry to part with. She has an extraordinary capacity to make distant times and places come alive. I was fascinated by the glimpse of Hungarian gypsy life before the war as well as Hungary during the post-war years, what people are capable of when they have a little power. There is also the theme of exile and transformation. But the heart of the novel is very much set in England, an interwoven story of four generations including the predicaments of modern marriage, told with the author's characteristic wry humour and compassionate wisdom. "We're the sum total of our own stories", one character says - but when these stories are half-truths told to ourselves and others, they cast a spell on the present - and this is partly what the novel is about, an unveiling process that enables new possibilities. It's wonderful!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dancing to freedom 21 May 2008
By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE
Jessica Dutchen has written her best book yet, the story of Karina, a violinist, mother, wife and lover, and the chasms in her life and background - an immigrants' child married to Julian from the manor, her parents Denes and Erszebet fleeing oppression and their own country, her grandmother Mimi a brilliant violinist from the despised Roma - that only love and music can even hope to cross.

Some books will open your eyes to another world - this one is even more generous. The story takes us from the inequities of pre-war Budapest, the glitter of war-time New York, and the brutalities of post-war communist Hungary to a London train crash and the cynical dynamics of 21st century public transport policy.

Reading it the first time, I just wanted to keep turning the pages because I was so involved with the characters and the story. Re-reading the last few chapters to write this, I found myself sucked in once again, but more able to appreciate how the story works as well as it does because it too leaps these chasms, and takes us with it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read, let down by the last few chapters
I loved this book until almost the end. Jessica Duchen writes brilliantly about music and families, Hungary and Britain. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Mrs. C. Gough
4.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding book
I bought this book because I like the author's classical music blogs. I was at first wary of buying a book written by a critic/bloggist/twitterati but it turns out Jessica Duchen... Read more
Published on 21 Oct 2011 by mimoblade
4.0 out of 5 stars Adultery and Eastern European Passion
An in many ways excellent tale of a Hungarian emigre family of musicians living in London. Karina has given up her musical career to become the wife of a sweet but slightly dull... Read more
Published on 5 Sep 2011 by Kate Hopkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Hungarian Dances
I bought Hungarian Dances because I love literary novels about music and culture, and most of all because I love Hungary. Read more
Published on 25 Feb 2011 by Dan Holloway
4.0 out of 5 stars good
Hungarian dances follows other books i have read of Jessicas. I think she is one of the best authors i have read. Like others, i found this absorbing, intriguing. Read more
Published on 8 Feb 2011 by itchybeard
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic story, beautifully constructed
This book was a great read and I found impossible to put it down until I finished it!

The stories are beatifully constructed and held together. Read more
Published on 21 Feb 2010 by A. Mongiardino
4.0 out of 5 stars surprisingly very good! (not a chick lit!)
I picked this book up because I was going on holiday to Budapest and wanted to read a novel about Hungary (surprisingly difficult to find novels set in Hungary and written in... Read more
Published on 28 Aug 2009 by J. Mellor
5.0 out of 5 stars Hungarian Dances Rocks
A really good read. I enjoyed Hungarian Dances very much -and I admired it enormously too. Jessica Duchen brings Hungary vividly alive for the English reader,which is a great and... Read more
Published on 8 Sep 2008 by Mary Hamer
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic gripping story!
I loved Hungarian Dances. I felt I knew the characters so so well and at the end I wanted to phone them up! Ms. Duchen has a wonderful ability of bringing fiction to life. Read more
Published on 25 Aug 2008 by T. Saiten
5.0 out of 5 stars A knockout novel
This is one of the most compelling novels that I have read in recent years. Strong, vivid characterisation, a superb dramatic pace and a very original way to tie up all the threads... Read more
Published on 24 Aug 2008 by Matthew Taylor
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