We often often focus on the big picture, attracted to that large screen cinematic experience. A nation's rise and fall will be written in bold letters, large enough to be seen by generations yet to be born, its major players absorbing all the light, leaving the rest of us finding our way, our own individual path in the shadows of those whom history remembers. This book, although a memoir, charts the history of Budapest through the twentieth century, from just before the second world war, through the rise of communism and its subsequent fall, and yet it does so through a finer lens, through the life of one individual, Fűlöp Holló, a fierce supporter & defender of communism and Yudit s Father.
Fűlöp Holló's story starts in Prague, where he lived a golden existence in the warmth of an extended family. His folks had moved there from Hungary, some years earlier to escape the strict anti-Jewish laws that had no longer allowed his grandfather to practice medicine. Prague (Czechoslovakia) at this time was a true European capital with highly developed industry and enjoying a period of peace and stability, thereby allowing his family to flourish within its old-fashioned bourgeois democracy. This was not to last, by the spring of 1939 this period of freedom would disappear as the Nazi jackboot marched into the country and, on the 16th of March, Hitler went to Czechoslovakia and from Prague Castle proclaimed the German protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
For some reason it was decided by the family to go back to the homeland, back to Hungary and to Budapest. It seems a bit stupid to say that Fűlöp, was one of the lucky ones because he survived what happened next; that a mothers love saved him from the extermination camps, but how ever I put it seems hollow & doesn't convey what he went through, for example, between 20% and 40% of Greater Budapest's 250,000 Jewish inhabitants died through Nazi and Arrow Cross Party genocide during 1944 and early 1945.
In 1949, Hungary was declared a Communist People's Republic & Fűlöp Holló, would be one of its most vehement supporters & would remain so for the rest of his life.
Yudit Kiss's book focuses on the the final years of her fathers life, attempting to pierce through the barriers that have made a puzzle of her fathers past and have left her with a catalogue of unanswered questions. Questions such as..
Where does his unshakeable belief in Communism stem from?
Why do others refer to her and her family as Jewish, when they are strict atheists?
Why does her father have no relatives?
How could her father, who's great belief was the the betterment of mankind, turn a blind eye to the atrocities done under its banner.
It's these and other related questions that she attempts to find some answer for and in the process, has to reappraise her own ideology as an individual and as someone growing up immersed in the philosophy of her fathers world, this becomes more apparent the more aware she is of the world beyond the confines of her nations palisades, whether these were internal or external. Making this book as much about Yudit and her life as it does her fathers.
This book surprised me, at first glance it's a book about an academic and dyed in the wool communist which didn't really appeal and yet this is merely one of its facets. It is also about a family's sacrifice and an individuals survival under conditions that could easily go in the Oxford English dictionary's as the definition of hell, about a rejection of a past and its rediscovery, its about all the contradictions and half truths people use to get by. But most of all it is about love, family love, which makes this a warm beautiful tale full of poetic insight, written by someone with a love of the written word.
Yudit Kiss was born in Budapest in 1956. After having worked in Hungary, Mexico and the UK, she moved to Switzerland in the early 1990s, where she currently lives. Yudit is a Hungarian economist, based in Geneva, and the author of several academic publications dealing with the post-Cold War economic transformations of Central Europe. Her articles of wider interest have been published by the Guardian, Lettre International, El Nacional, Nexos, Gazeta Wyborcza & Eurozine. This is her first literary work.
This book is also full of writers, poets and their works, and has a set of author's notes, containing anthologies where you can find English translations of the Hungarian poetry contained within the pages of the book, a resource I shall be mining for years. This note also states that:
"Unlike geographical Hungary (93,030 Square Kilometres, 10 million inhabitants), Hungarian literature is a vast, extremely rich country that is mostly inaccessible to non-Hungarian speakers. There are however, some excellent translations available in English, thanks to a few committed and gifted translators"
George Szirtes is one of these "committed and gifted translators", a Hungarian-born British poet, writing in English, as well as a translator from the Hungarian language into English. He has lived in the United Kingdom for most of his life. He has won a variety of prizes for his work, including the 2004 T. S. Eliot Prize, for his collection Reel and the Bess Hokin Prize for poems in Poetry magazine, 2008. His translations from Hungarian poetry, fiction and drama have also won numerous awards.