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You See, I Used to Live Here
In 1978 I visited Budapest for the first time. I lived in Dijon from January until June of the year between college and graduate school, and my parents met me in Zurich, where some of my mother's many relatives lived. Together the three of us toured France and Italy before arriving at our ultimate destination, Budapest.
A complete role reversal occurred when we were in Europe together. For the first time in my life, I did not mediate conversations between one of my parents and a shop clerk or a waiter or a bus driver or a flight attendant or a person on the street. Instead I was mute and inarticulate, as my parents, my incompetent immigrant parents, speaking French or German or, eventually, Hungarian, handled the quotidian minutiae that used to be my secure domain. I felt bad enough when infantilized in private conversation, but this all felt horribly, extravagantly public.
Somehow I remember our time in Hungary all as being rainy and gray, though my journal describes beautiful spring days. The city in 1978 still looked traumatized from its World War II siege and the Hungarian revolution of 1956. Bullet holes marked buildings, and dirt spewing from both factories and small Soviet cars left a haze in the air and soot on the walls and a vague headache for the first few days. And yet the grandeur of the Danube, the intricate pillars and crevices of the Parliament building rising on its left bank, the craggy hills of Buda, the flat, urban density of Pest, the sweeping bridges, and the reconstructed castle district all seemed familiar.
Images from My First Book of Hungary by István Csicsery-Rónay, a frequent Patterson Street guest, were now life-size and three dimensional. The book was published in 1967, and its introduction was the perfect example of the Hungarian self-involvement that I never witnessed at Patterson Street but that I grew to appreciate among some émigrés:
Hungary, or Magyarorszag (maw-dyawr-or-sahg), as the Hungarians call their country, may well be called the land of the middle. It lies in Central Europe; it is halfway between two corners of Europe (the Strait of Gibraltar and the Ural Mountains); and it is halfway between the North Pole and the Equator.
Dispensing with latitudes and longitudes, Hungary is simply the center of the universe.
My father brightened as we approached the city of his birth, the only place on the planet where he ever felt at home, despite all its radical changes. Sitting in the front seat of the cab we took from the airport, he engaged the driver in a wide-ranging conversation about national politics and local concerns. Even though he was already seventy-five, he was vigorous and energetic. He was voraciously curious and well informed, so he knew what to ask. When I casually remarked on the presence of soldiers at the airport, he, ever vigilant, shot me a warning look that said such observations should be kept quiet.
While my parents were both from Budapest, more than the thirteen years that separated their ages divided their experiences. My mother's world of the rich but new Jewish aristocracy had once, when he was a very young man, been vividly a part of my father's middle-class resentments, class tensions, and misunderstandings. In his 1929 diary he wrote defiantly, "I always had an insensible prejudice toward the rich and powerful--maybe because I am neither of those and would like to be both. . . . I always had a sense for the social distances, especially upward, and I am proud of having that sense." It became clear to me that while my parents' two families obviously did not represent...
Posted January 27, 2014
I have read many books both biographical and historical fiction about WW2. In fact, I have read so many that the stories tend to sound the same. I am not in any way attempting to demean the stories of those who survived and those who did not survive. I have read few stories about the invasion of Hungary.
This story not only discussed the plight of survivors - although ultimately a far different plight from their fellow Jewish inhabitants of Budapest, the love story of the author's non Jewish father and her mother who was a member of possibly the wealthiest Jewish family in Budapest.
In some ways the book is written as a history book - lots of facts, quotes from newspapers, etc. and includes her father's memoirs of his service as an ambassador as well as love letters and family letters. Basically with so much diverse information plus the author's opinions and interpretations for me the book did not flow well.
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