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An Exclusive Love
     

An Exclusive Love

3.8 10
by Johanna Adorjan, Anthea Bell (Translator)
 

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“This book tells the story of Vera and István, Hungarian Jews who survived the Holocaust, fled during the 1956 uprising in Budapest to Denmark and in 1991 in Copenhagen took their own lives. They were found in their bed, hand in hand. It is the story of an unusual love. The story of my grandparents."—Johanna Adorján
Two people have grown

Overview

“This book tells the story of Vera and István, Hungarian Jews who survived the Holocaust, fled during the 1956 uprising in Budapest to Denmark and in 1991 in Copenhagen took their own lives. They were found in their bed, hand in hand. It is the story of an unusual love. The story of my grandparents."—Johanna Adorján
Two people have grown old together. He is terminally ill, she doesn't want to live without him. One Sunday in autumn, they clean the apartment, leave the dog with a friend, and protect the rose-bushes against the cold of the coming winter. Then they are ready.
Tactfully and affectionately, Johanna Adorján has reconstructed the day of her grandparents' suicide. Vera and István were anything but ordinary. Chain-smoking and glamorous, they exuded the aura of a more elegant age. And they had a past which they did not discuss—even within the family. Decades ago they had fled disaster, started a new life in Denmark and—so it seemed—never looked back.
Sixteen years after her grandparents' death, Johanna Adorján sets out to fill the gaps of their story, in the process discovering unexpected things about herself and her family. Against the backdrop of the horrors of the 20th-century, she brings Vera and István back to life—a fascinating couple, peculiarly stylish, stubborn, eccentric. With an extraordinary blend of true reporting and novelistic recreation Johanna Adorján tries to understand their last and powerful act.
Beautifully written, tender but never sentimental, An Exclusive Love is a brilliantly-constructed memoir and a gorgeous romance, a tale of two people who died as they lived: inseparable.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a striking debut, Adorján mingles past, present, memory, and imagination to find meaning in the dual suicide of her charismatic grandparents in October 1991, when the author was 20. Noting the suicides of other concentration-camp survivors like Primo Levi, Arthur Koestler and his wife, and many others, Adorján asks, "Is it typically Jewish to kill yourself after you have survived the Holocaust--so then you determine for yourself how you want to die?" Effectively she re-creates the deaths of a still-glamorous couple; her grandmother, a woman in her early 70s whose enduring beauty recalled film stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, and her cigarillo-loving 82-year-old grandfather. Both survived the Mauthausen extermination camp after being deported from Hungary along with 600,000 other Jews. The author's search for the life experiences that led to such a haunting end takes her to Budapest, Israel, Paris, and Copenhagen and forms a living history of a passionately devoted couple that embodies much of 20th-century European Jewry. The pedantic details of the author's repetitive yet lyrical imaginings of her grandparents' last day are heartbreaking. Ending her book with excerpts from the police report may not have been the most poignant conclusion, but it is the most complete. (Jan.)
Booklist
“As Adorján tries to understand her grandparents’ death, she also confronts her own feelings about her sense of heritage and identity. Blending history, memoir, and imaginative writing, Adorján’s nonlinear procedure creates a poignant narrative of unwavering love.”
Le Monde
“[A] story that is troubling in its immediacy, and which, via an intuitive sensitivity, captures a striking truth … Very simply, without pathos, without artifice, this personal account is written with the infinite gentleness of sorrow that has found peace.”
Le Figaro
“Her simple and direct style renders the story with a perfect clarity.”
The Australian
“Adorján has written a book that shimmers with a sense of the casual comedy of human life…It is certainly the work of a natural writer, graceful as well as forceful…one of the most striking memoirs to be published anywhere in years.”
Vogue [Australia]
“A stirring account of sorrow and heartbreak.”
Die Zeit [Germany]
“A very poignant book.”
Libération [France]
“The most impressive opening sentence of this literary season.”
Buch Journal [Germany]
“A wonderful narrative about an extraordinary couple—enchanting, warm, and consoling.”
Herald Sun [Australia]
“Best described as literary non-fiction, this memoir moved me to laughter and tears.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Spare, beautiful.... artfully reconstructs the day in 1991 when her grandparents took their own lives in a suicide pact.... This fascinating couple come slowly into focus for the author and reader simultaneously, or so Adorjan makes it seem. That's what makes a good memoir...a shared discovery.”
Sunday Star Times [New Zealand]
“[A] remarkable book ... [It] succeeds so profoundly—the sequences flow through time and space and from one person's voice to another with calm assurance, like a great musical composition.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung [Germany]
“The fact that the author does not tire in inquiring into this riddle, that she scrutinizes everything anew, courageously and with a biting wit, makes her book about a grim Sunday a sparkling work.”
NPR.org
A haunting, beautifully composed book …Like Francine du Plessix Gray's Them, Edmund de Waal's The Hare With Amber Eyes and Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost, An Exclusive Love offers a fascinating new angle on the Holocaust filtered through the perspective of survivors' progeny.... In imagining what her grandparents' feelings and actions might have been on their last day, Adorjan hits upon a powerful dramatic structure that builds from the quotidian to the shocking.... Sensitive, intelligent and profoundly moving, An Exclusive Love will leave you stunned.— Heller McAlpin
Liberation [France]
The most impressive opening sentence of this literary season.
Heller McAlpin - NPR.org
“A haunting, beautifully composed book …Like Francine du Plessix Gray's Them, Edmund de Waal's The Hare With Amber Eyes and Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost, An Exclusive Love offers a fascinating new angle on the Holocaust filtered through the perspective of survivors' progeny.... In imagining what her grandparents' feelings and actions might have been on their last day, Adorjan hits upon a powerful dramatic structure that builds from the quotidian to the shocking.... Sensitive, intelligent and profoundly moving, An Exclusive Love will leave you stunned.”
Lily Brett
“This is an intense, complex, uplifting, passionate, painful and often hilarious story of love.”
Elizabeth Berg
“This is a very powerful book, unusually powerful, beautifully written and translated. Neither sentimental nor judgmental, it will gift you not only with a riveting read, but with a reason for serious thought and contemplation after you have finished reading. It offers a prism through which one might examine and perhaps come to understand a most complicated act, to put aside the sensationalism in order to see the logic and the deep humanity.”
Irène Heidelberger-Leonard
“Exclusive, that is to say singular, in every way: in its project, in its realization and in its translation. A breathtaking fairytale of suicide.”
Diana Athill
“I was very much moved by An Exclusive Love—such clarity of thought and feeling. What I think of Anthea Bell as a translator is little short of reverence, after what she did for W. G. Sebald: one trusts her absolutely, so I know for sure that Johanna Adorján writes with beautiful precision and suppleness. It's a truly memorable book.”
Kirkus Reviews

Berlin-based journalist Adorján's debut examines why and how her grandparents committed suicide together, decades after they survived the Holocaust.

In life, Vera and Pista refused to discuss how Pista lived through his time in Mauthausen, the Nazi concentration camp notorious for its vast labor complex, or how Vera obtained the forged papers that allowed her to evade capture and give birth to Adorján's father in a proper hospital. In her intrepid investigation, the author learned what she could from speaking to relatives and interviewing the few friends her grandparents left behind, elderly women who corroborated that her grandparents kept the world at arm's length. Vera was convinced that no one but Pista loved her, and Pista was dependent on Vera in all practical affairs. Recollections from Adorján's childhood depict a handsome, cultured couple who dressed impeccably and smoked incessantly. The essence of the grandparents' relationship surfaces in their final-day preparations, which the author vividly imagines and intersperses throughout the book: Vera cleaning the house and wrapping gifts to bequeath to relatives, checking in periodically on Pista, who had been ill for some time. Between snoozing on the sofa and smoking cigarillos, he emptied pill capsules for consumption later. Final Exit, the 1991 bestseller about euthanasia, shaped the plan to ingest a lethal dosage of painkillers for which Pista, a former surgeon, wrote a prescription. However, Adorján suspects that her grandparents resolved never to live apart when they were still young. Her personal revelations make up for her inability to completely surmount the privacy her grandparents meticulously guarded. Feeling cheated out of the Jewish legacy her grandparents ignored once they were safe in Denmark, Adorján explores her Jewish identity by trying JDate, which proves unsuccessful, and traveling to Israel, where she found peace among the legions of Jews she had been seeking all along.

In the process of assimilating disparate facts into a poignant and elegant story, Adorján exposes her own hopes and fears, an added bonus.

Neil Genzlinger
…[a] spare, beautiful exploration of why [Adorjan's] grandparents killed themselves…This fascinating couple, who had survived the Holocaust and the Hungarian uprising of 1956, come slowly into focus for the author and the reader simultaneously, or so Adorjan makes it seem. That's what makes a good memoir—it's not a regurgitation of ordinariness or ordeal, not a dart thrown desperately at a trendy topic, but a shared discovery.
—The New York Times

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393080018
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
01/31/2011
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Johanna Adorján, born in 1971 in Stockholm, has worked as an editor and writer for various newspapers and magazines. A former theater and opera student, she has also written for stage and screen. She lives in Berlin.

Anthea Bell, OBE, is a British translator who has translated numerous literary works, especially children's literature, from French, German, Danish, and Polish to English.

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