3.6 5
by Joseph Kertes

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March 1944: War's darkest period descends upon Hungary's Jews. By the time it ends, over half a million Jews will have been murdered. Gratitude tells the story of that period, through a group of people whom terrible circumstance has thrown together, and of lives and loves saved and lost.

A brilliant exploration with deep humanity of the complexities


March 1944: War's darkest period descends upon Hungary's Jews. By the time it ends, over half a million Jews will have been murdered. Gratitude tells the story of that period, through a group of people whom terrible circumstance has thrown together, and of lives and loves saved and lost.

A brilliant exploration with deep humanity of the complexities of the human psyche in its darkest hour.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Kertes digs into the experiences of a family of wealthy Hungarian Jews in the darkest moments of WWII in his proficient latest. An ensemble piece, the novel's main character is Paul Beck, a lawyer stripped of his profession who takes great risks to protect his family, including posing as a Swedish diplomat to stop a train taking his family to a concentration camp. His politician father is executed, his dentist brother hides for several months in his assistant's home, and his sister mourns the disappearance of her lover. Eventually, the tide begins to turn as the Russians arrive, though the Russian presence presents a new set of problems. Kertes leavens the grim material with a few lighter scenes of the Becks trying to make the most of a horrible situation, which goes a long way to making them an endearing and memorable group, while the author's straightforward style moves the story along at a healthy clip. (Oct.)
Library Journal
It's mid-1944, and war has come to Hungary when the country is occupied by its erstwhile ally Nazi Germany. Teenage Lili Bandel hides behind a wardrobe as German troops empty her town of its Jewish inhabitants. The sole surviving member of her family, Lili makes her way to Budapest and is taken in by the Becks, a family of prosperous Hungarian Jews. Kertes's (dean, creative & performing arts, Humber Coll., Toronto; Boardwalk) imaginative re-creation of this era is peopled with such historical figures as Raoul Wallenberg, Adolf Eichmann, and Alexander Korda, lending authenticity to a somewhat old-fashioned saga that follows the Beck family and friends through the fateful final days of the Holocaust. A statement about the Swede Wallenberg, who rescued countless Hungarian Jews, sets the moral tone: "Wallenberg had come back to Hungary, to someone else's cause, to someone else's misery, to stand in front of the most formidable army in the world, and with what? Papers. Common sense. Law. Civility." VERDICT Warmly recommended for all readers with an interest in this era.—Edward Cone, New York
Kirkus Reviews
Rambling Holocaust novel from Hungarian-Canadian Kertes (Boardwalk, 1998, etc.) refracts the fate of Hungary's Jews through a variety of lives. The German invasion in the spring of 1944 brings with it roundups and mass deportations. Lili Bandel, home alone in the Jewish enclave of Tolgy, hears the marauding soldiers. She ventures out to find the town emptied, family and neighbors gone. The resourceful blonde 16-year-old makes her way to Budapest. Further south in Szeged, dentist Istvan Beck learns that the Germans have hung his father, the town's Jewish mayor. Istvan finds refuge in the cellar of his assistant Marta, a compassionate Catholic. In Budapest, fate brings Lili into the Beck family circle; she and Istvan's cousin Simon eventually fall in love. The deportations are building in momentum. Istvan's brother Paul, a lawyer, is fighting them, but he needs an authority figure. Enter Raoul Wallenberg, the heroic young Swedish diplomat whose strategy of issuing Jews protective Swedish papers and setting up safe houses will save hundreds of lives and bring him fame. Kertes' treatment of Wallenberg is deeply disappointing; the Swede is a pallid figure constantly upstaged by the flamboyant Paul, who single-handedly stops a transport and saves four family members. The focus moves among the Becks in Budapest, Istvan in his cellar and his protector Marta, who is deported to Auschwitz for merely "a whiff of transgression." For every horror, there is a miracle. Marta is saved from the gas chambers by a guard who sets her free after raping her; a Polish nobleman and a hot-air balloonist ease her journey home. So it goes, too, with Lili and Simon: He is deported to a Transylvanian labor camp,but Lili is allowed a conjugal visit, and the lovebirds return to Budapest like "tourists." These sudden reversals of fortune undercut the more credible depictions of loss and suffering. Well-researched but floundering melodrama. Agent: Margaret Hart/HSW Literary Agency

Product Details

Penguin Canada
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

 JOSEPH KERTES was born in Hungary but escaped with his family to Canada after the revolution of 1956. He studied English at York University and the University of Toronto, where he was encouraged in his writing by Irving Layton and Marshall McLuhan. His first novel, Winter Tulips , won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. His third novel, Gratitude , won a Canadian Jewish Book Award and the U.S. National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. Kertes founded Humber College’s distinguished creative writing and comedy programs. He is currently Humber’s dean of creative and performing arts.

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Gratitude 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
SharifKhan More than 1 year ago
As WWII draws to a brutal end, Hitler’s storm cloud of tyranny descends upon Hungary’s Jews. A sad yet soaring tale of a Hungarian Jewish family caught up in the cruel chaos, Joseph Kertes’ third novel, GRATITUDE, is a sweeping literary achievement that serves as a powerful humbling force – taking the reader through the dark night of the soul and into the spangled light. Sixteen-year-old Lili Bandel emerges from her small Jewish village of Tolgy as the sole survivor in a place turned into a desolate ghost town – evacuated by German soldiers. She evades capture – her blue eyes and blond halo shielding her – managing the long trek to Budapest alone, where the well-to-do Becks take her in as their own. Like many Hungarian Jewish families deriving false hope of immunity from Hungary’s alliance with Germany, the Becks, too, lived in their own form of denial and delusion, failing to see the proverbial ‘writing on the wall’ in time and heeding warnings from friends and relatives to get out of the country, until too late. Painfully, tragically, with great skill, humility and respect, author Kertes leads us through the harrowing journey of the Becks to the gates of Hades as they struggle to hold on to their dignity and humanity in the tightening death-grip of Hitler’s hate machine led by Adolph Eichmann. In the dark soil of despair and deprivation, new roots of hope and heroism spring forth as one of the family members, Paul Beck, a lawyer disbarred from practice because of his Jewish faith, teams up with the noble Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, risking their lives to save thousands of Jews by forging Swedish passports. Some make it, some are not so fortunate – losing their lives to the randomness of war, the privations of gruelling labour camps or the gas chambers of Auschwitz, or succumbing to deep psychic wounds post-war. What sets this book apart from other Holocaust books is that the heroes and villains are flawed human beings. One side isn’t always right while the other side always wrong. Compassion and cruelty often co-exist – revealing themselves in the unlikeliest of people and places. While the country is left in ruins – pillaged by Germans and Russians – true restoration begins, restoration of buildings and temples and souls. Restoration of dignity and hope. The story is a clarion call to us all to be alert and aware of the holocausts occurring all around us – and to act with courage and compassion. It is also a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit and the ability to prevail in times of darkness, as the author himself has prevailed over the dark psychology of his own demons, with a spirit of gratitude.
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jlb23 More than 1 year ago
I have read a lot of fiction about Jewish experiences in the Holocaust. This book presents a unique perspective on Jewish life in both the small town and cities of Eastern Europe during WWII. It portrays the valiant efforts of Raoul Wallenberg to save many Jews. I was engrossed by the characters and the plot and could not put this unique book down until I had finished. This is a wonderful book which I highly recommend.