The Book of Fathers

The Book of Fathers

2.8 6
by Miklos Vamos
     
 

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When in 1705 Kornell Csillag's grandfather returns destitute to his native Hungary from exile, he happens across a gold fob-watch gleaming in the mud. The shipwrecked fortunes of the Csillag family suddenly take a new and marvelous turn. The golden watch brings an unexpected gift to the future generations of firstborn sons: clairvoyance. Passed down from father to son

Overview

When in 1705 Kornell Csillag's grandfather returns destitute to his native Hungary from exile, he happens across a gold fob-watch gleaming in the mud. The shipwrecked fortunes of the Csillag family suddenly take a new and marvelous turn. The golden watch brings an unexpected gift to the future generations of firstborn sons: clairvoyance. Passed down from father to son, this gift offers the ability to look into the future or back into history–for some it is considered a blessing, for others a curse. No matter the outcome, each generation records its astonishing, vivid, and revelatory visions into a battered journal that becomes known as The Book of Fathers. For three hundred years the Csillag family line meanders unbroken across Hungary's rivers and vineyards, through a land overrun by wolves and bandits, scarred by plague and massacre, and brutalized by despots. Impetuous, tenderhearted, and shrewd, the Csillags give birth to scholars and gamblers, artists and entrepreneurs. Led astray by unruly passions, they marry frigid French noblewomen and thieving alehouse whores. They change their name and their religion, and change them back. They wander from home but always return, and through it all The Book of Fathers bears witness to holocaust and wedding feast alike.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Jane Smiley
…graceful and alluring, a leisurely introduction to the last 300 years of Hungarian history and an often affecting depiction of the way individuals must appear and disappear, alive for a few years and then lost entirely, even to their own descendants…The Book of Fathers is a serious novel that, while sometimes agonizing or even shocking, is never somber. Inevitably, its theme is that life goes on, and that every son is no less interesting than every father, that each generation's search for wisdom is different but no less important or dramatic than the previous generation's. Miklos Vamos's literary skills are such that he can sustain the reader's interest in each doomed generation (doomed by nature, if nothing else). His virtuoso portraits of his idiosyncratic characters are fully backed by his evocative portrayal of the world they live in and the history they live through. Note to Vamos's publisher: More, please!
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In this sprawling chronicle of the Csillag family, celebrated Hungarian author Vámos depicts the lives of 12 generations of men, each a first-born son, and in the process offers a whimsical 400-year history of his native country. Each son is graced with the ability to envision events from the past as well as the future; these gifted men maintain a “Book of Fathers,” which is simultaneously a mundane and inspired record of the family, containing everything from a list of songs and arias favored by one father to testaments about inheriting an heirloom. Each of the novel's 12 chapters is devoted to the life of a father as it plays out against Hungary's turbulent political context; one finds fortune in the wine industry, another is a brilliant gambler, another oversees a fancy shoe shop, another runs a glass factory and yet another is a master linguist. While the episodic structure can inspire a plodding feel, the book has many sublime moments, from meditations on the nature of time to a sly investigation of how words accumulate to form books. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Vámos's first novel to be published in English is uncommon in its scope and structure, following 12 generations of a Hungarian family over the past 300 years through the lives of each generation's eldest son. Rather than being fully developed, these men represent all of Hungary through a variety of professions (from vintners and vocalists to businessmen and educators) and live throughout greater Hungary, Germany, and the United States. The chapters read more like short stories, adroitly linked by personal and historical themes. One pertains to the family's Jewish heritage: whether the men accept, embrace, suppress, or reject their patrimony, history is determined to judge them by it. In a final note, Vámos admits that he wanted to write a novel for his father, secretary to László Rajk, minister of the interior and then foreign affairs in the late 1940s who was executed after a show trial. VERDICT Although readers will be swept up and entertained by the breadth of the family's history, they might end up wishing that Vámos had focused more on his relationship with his father, with Rajk's tragic story as a backdrop.—K.H. Cumiskey, Duke Univ., Durham, NC
Kirkus Reviews
A bestseller in Hungary, this family chronicle focuses on firstborn sons across 12 generations. Kornel Csillag is born in 1701; his many-times-removed scion Konrad Csillag as a three-year-old witnesses the famous European solar eclipse in 1999. In between we meet multifarious Csillags and Sterns (Hungarian and German respectively for "star"). Despite the diversity of characters over the course of three centuries, certain family traits become familiar. The sons, who later become fathers and then grandfathers, have a supra-sensory ability to connect with their ancestors; they have visions of the lives that have unfolded before they appeared on earth. They tend to be supremely intelligent, gifted with an ability to read and write at an astonishingly early age, and many are excellent singers. In addition, they struggle with ambivalence over their Jewish identity. Some embrace it; others repudiate it, most notably Balazs Csillag, who converts to Catholicism in August 1945. Throughout the narrative, the patriarchs record their thoughts, visions and experiences in the "Book of Fathers," which is handed down from generation to generation, occasionally hidden and rediscovered. Family history entwines with Hungarian history; we witness the rise and fall of scholars, shopkeepers and intellectuals against a background of economic turmoil, political intrigue and the struggle for independence. One of the most engaging characters is Henryk Csillag-Stern. Born in New York, he finds himself drawn to the mother country and emigrates back to Pecs, the town of his ancestors. Henryk goes on a mission to uncover his family history, marries a local girl and fathers the remarkable Konrad, who "at a year and ahalf was able to recall and recite stories he had heard, word for word"-just like his forbears. Widely read in his homeland but rarely translated into English, Vamos should win a new American audience with his beautifully crafted novel of connection and continuity.
From the Publisher
“Graceful and alluring, a leisurely introduction to the last 300 years of Hungarian history and an often affecting depiction of the way individuals must appear and disappear, alive for a few years and then lost entirely, even to their own descendents…The Book of Fathers is a serious novel that, while sometimes agonizing or even shocking, is never somber. Inevitably, its theme is that life goes on, and that every son is no less interesting than every father, that each generation’s search for wisdom is different, but no less important or dramatic than the previous generation’s. Miklos Vamos’s literary skills are such that he can sustain the reader’s interest in each doomed generation (doomed by nature, if nothing else). His virtuoso portraits of his idiosyncratic characters are fully backed by his evocative portrayal of the world they live in and the history they live through. Note to Vamos’s publisher: More, please!”—Jane Smiley, The New York Times Book Review

“Vámos’s novel chronicles a Hungarian family from 1705 until the present, as its members pass down their recollections of joy and hardship in the carefully preserved manuscript of the title. The novel proceeds via discrete episodes, each focusing on the life and death of a male progenitor with the ability to see into the past and, often, into the future. Steadily, a portrait emerges of an artistic, emotional group of men with a tendency toward violent death...Vámos’s fatalistic narrative follows in the tradition of One Hundred Years of Solitude, but it stands as a unique and affecting illustration of the vicissitudes of Hungarian history.”—The New Yorker

“[The Book of Fathers] is a book worth spending time with.”—The Huffington Post

"In this sprawling chronicle of the Csillag family, celebrated Hungarian author Vámos depicts the lives of 12 generations of men, each a first-born son, and in the process offers a whimsical 400-year history of his native country… the book has many sublime moments, from meditations on the nature of time to a sly investigation of how words accumulate to form books."—Publishers Weekly

"A bestseller in Hungary, this family chronicle focuses on firstborn sons across 12 generations…Widely read in his homeland but rarely translated into English, Vámos should win a new American audience with his beautifully crafted novel of connection and continuity."—Kirkus Reviews

"A superb family saga that draws the reader effortlessly through nearly three centuries of turbulent history . . .it records the political upheavals of an entire nation. The characters are fascinating and Vámos's writing is a magnificent, seamless blend of the general and the personal."—The Times (UK)

"Vámos is capable of producing incredibly acute and economical observations of the most extreme human conditions."—The National

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590513569
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
10/13/2009
Sold by:
Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
474
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Farther up, where the stream curled away to the right, ancient willows swept the water, the branches lightly slapping its surface again and again. The boys had tired themselves out and lay down in the shade to eat the luncheon in their saddlebags. The monotonous little noises soon made them nod off.

Bálint stirred and turned to suddenly see beauty that made his eyes ache. A girl was bathing on the far bank, almost stark naked. Her faultless skin was as white as swansdown. Her luxuriant hair, wound around her head, was the color of blackest coal. She was splashing in the water with the abandon of a puppy. At first he thought he must be dreaming and that the slightest movement on his part would make the image dissolve.

In the evening he found out that he had seen Kata, the only daughter of the new glassmaster, Imre Farkas II. His excitement knew no bounds. He could not sleep a wink all night: he kept seeing the girl again and again, her slightest movement came to life, every curve and crevice of her body was deeply etched in his brain. The following day he spent in a moonstruck daze: he would neither eat nor drink; in his usual summer pastimes, whether hunting or ninepins, he took no pleasure at all. He was pining, pining for the bank of the stream where he might again glimpse the figure of Kata.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Meet the Author

Miklós Vámos

Miklós Vámos is one of the most respected and widely read writers in his native Hungary. He is the author of twenty-eight books, eleven of them novels. He has taught at Yale University on a Fulbright fellowship, served as The Nation’s Eastern Europe correspondent, and was the host of a popular cultural TV talk show in Hungary. Today he is a correspondent for the Washington Post online. He is the father of three children, including a daughter who lives in London and five-year-old twin boys in Budapest.

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The Book of Fathers 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a book that contains a great deal of Hungarian history but I would not call it an historical novel. It is more about how eachgeneration imforms the next in ways that can only be seen from the distant perspctive of authornand reader. It is a well told tale that spans centuries.
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