Journey to a Revolution: A Personal Memoir and History of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956
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Journey to a Revolution: A Personal Memoir and History of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956

by Michael Korda
     
 

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The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was perhaps the most dramatic single event of the Cold War and a major turning point in history. Though it ended unsuccessfully, the spontaneous uprising of Hungarians against their country's Communist party and the Soviet occupation forces in the wake of Stalin's death demonstrated to the world at large the failure of Communism. In

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Overview

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was perhaps the most dramatic single event of the Cold War and a major turning point in history. Though it ended unsuccessfully, the spontaneous uprising of Hungarians against their country's Communist party and the Soviet occupation forces in the wake of Stalin's death demonstrated to the world at large the failure of Communism. In full view of the Western media—and therefore the world—the Russians were obliged to use force on a vast scale to subdue armed students, factory workers, and intellectuals in the streets of a major European capital.

In October 1956, Michael Korda and three fellow Oxford undergraduates traveled to Budapest in a beat-up Volkswagen to bring badly needed medicine to the hospitals—and to participate, at street level, in one of the great battles of the postwar era. Journey to a Revolution is at once history and a compelling memoir—the author's riveting account of the course of the revolution, from its heroic beginnings to the sad martyrdom of its end.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
Korda, the former editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, marries history and memoir in this vivid account of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. After sketching Hungary’s unhappy past, he recalls how he and three fellow Oxford students drove from London to Budapest in a rusty VW packed with much needed medical supplies. The son of a Hungarian émigré, Korda had never visited his father’s homeland, but, having been raised on stories of Spanish Civil War heroics, he was “determined not to miss out” on the adventure offered by a similarly stirring cause. Korda and his companions fell in with the students manning the barricades, and he describes what they witnessed with unflinching precision: the collapse of a building riddled by shelling (the “unacknowledged spectator sport of the twentieth century”) and tank turrets scattered “like huge crushed beetles.”
Publishers Weekly
In October 1956 the Hungarian people spontaneously rose up against an oppressive Soviet-imposed Communist regime and basked briefly in the light of freedom. In this history lesson-cum- memoir, Korda (Another Life) stitches an appealing retelling of his journey of discovery into the larger context of the desperate, short-lived Hungarian revolt. Part hard-nosed history lesson, part affectionate celebration of Hungary and Hungarian culture, and part sepia-tinged memoir, the book attempts to pull back the veil on the post-WWII machinations of the victorious Allies and expose how such diplomatic wheeling and dealing can devastate an entire nation. The first two-thirds are strong, with both a comprehensive overview of the postwar geopolitical scene and a finely tuned take on the specifics of the Hungarian situation. Korda's account of his own journey there during the revolution at age 24 is strangely flat. Along the way from the pastoral comfort of his native England to the rubble and corpse-strewn streets of Budapest, he has some near misses with life-threatening danger. At the border between Austria and Hungary, Korda and his mates encounter a machine gun-toting guard who offers them barack, homemade peach brandy, and a warning about the invading Russians: "there are some very bad guys in Gy r." While the tale at times has difficulty rising from the page, Korda's story is a worthy read. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Korda's lively personal account is complemented by Gati's more academic title. Born and raised in Hungary, Gati (European studies, Johns Hopkins Univ.; The Bloc That Failed) was a young journalist in Budapest at the time. Using hundreds of documents in the archives in Budapest, Moscow, and Washington, he has written a thorough and scholarly analysis of the revolution. An expert in Soviet and Eastern European politics, Gati seeks answers to such questions as why the Soviets changed course and decided to intervene in Hungary after initially pulling out, what effect the attitude of the United States had on the outcome of the revolution, and what role other world events played in forcing Hungary to be a lower priority to the West. Both authors have written honest, unromanticized accounts of those tragic days. They both agree that it was a sort of "David and Goliath" struggle and that although the revolution failed, it ultimately contributed to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989. Gati's book is clearly the more scholarly, but both works are accessible and engaging. Recommended for public and academic libraries. [Victor Sebestyen's Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution is forthcoming from Pantheon. Ed.] Maria C. Bagshaw, Lake Erie Coll., Painesville, OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A veteran writer and editor recalls his youthful, quixotic car trip to Budapest to deliver medical relief supplies during the brief Hungarian uprising against the Soviets in the fall of 1956. A novelist, historian and memoirist who has written gracefully about a range of subjects (Ulysses S. Grant, 2004; Man to Man: Surviving Prostate Cancer, 1996; etc.), Korda turns his focus on the events of October and November 1956, when, in his view, the first cracks appeared in the Iron Curtain. Korda takes an unusual approach here: Some of his story is simply a swift summary of the Hungarian Revolution (admittedly adapted from more comprehensive histories); and some of it is his memoir of a sort of loopy, larkish car trip he and some similarly idealistic and foolish friends from England took into Hungary at the very moment tens of thousands of Soviet tanks were rolling into the country to squash the tiny (and unlikely) flower of freedom that was beginning to bloom amid Communist oppression. Korda makes a couple of key points. First, the brutality of the Soviet response cured many European and American leftists of their Communist sympathies. Second, the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, which was occurring at the same time, snuffed out the small flame of Hungarian hope that the United States would intervene in their country to oppose the Soviets. The author's understandable anti-USSR attitude is evident throughout, even in his descriptions of Soviet diplomats with their bullet heads, gold teeth and shapeless, colorless suits. The most gripping parts of his story are, unsurprisingly, the personal ones. He sees corpses in the street, hears artillery shells land nearby, watches buildings implode, faces unsmilingSoviet tank officers who point their weapons at him. Chastened and frightened, he and his friends eventually depart the country in a British convoy. A harrowing and horrifying tale told in spare and poignant prose-sometimes bitter, sometimes ironic, always powerful.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060772628
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/21/2007
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
298,652
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.54(d)

Read an Excerpt



Journey to a Revolution


A Personal Memoir and History of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956


By Michael Korda


HarperCollins


Copyright © 2006

Michael Korda

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-06-077261-1



Chapter One


The Idol with Feet of Clay

Few things stand out less clearly at the time than a turning
point in history, at any rate when one is living through it.
As a rule it is only in retrospect that an event can be seen
clearly as a turning point. Historians write as if they were
looking at the past in the rearview mirror of a moving car;
and, of course, picking the "turning points" of history is
something of a specialty for many historians-in some cases,
the more obscure, the better. Turning points, however, are
much harder to recognize as they occur, when one is looking
ahead through the windshield.

To take an example, we now recognize that the Battle of
Britain was a turning point in World War II-fewer than 2,000
young fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force handed Hitler his
first defeat, and ensured that whatever else was going to
happen in 1940, Great Britain would not be invaded-but those
who lived through the Battle of Britain day by day did not
perceive it as a decisive, clear-cut event. The fighter pilots
were too exhausted and battle-weary to care; and the public,
while buoyed by the victories of the R.A.F. in the sky over
southern England, was still struggling to come to grips with
the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk
and the collapse of France, and would soon be plunged into the
first stages of what later came to be known as the blitz.
Those who-as children-saw the white contrails of the aircraft
swirling overhead in the blue summer sky, or watched the shiny
brass cartridge cases come tumbling down by the thousands, had
no sense of being witnesses to a "turning point"; nor did
their elders. It was only much later that this turning point
began to be perceived as one, and that Battle of Britain Day
was added to the list of annual British patriotic
celebrations.

In much the same way, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, while
it was clearly a major event, was not perceived as a turning
point in history until much later, when the unexpected
disintegration of the Soviet empire in eastern Europe,
followed very shortly by the total collapse of the Soviet
Union itself, could be traced back to the consequences of the
uprising in the streets of Budapest.

The three weeks of the Hungarian Revolution ended, of course,
in a victory for the Soviet Union, as everybody knows, but not
since Pyrrhus himself has there been so Pyrrhic a victory. The
Hungarians had chipped the first crack in the imposing facade
of Stalinist communism and had exposed the Soviet Union's
domination of eastern Europe for the brutal sham it was. For
the first time, people in the West-even those on the left-had
seen the true face of Soviet power, and it shocked them.

The Hungarians lost, but in the long run the Russians lost
more. Communism became much harder to sell as a humane
alternative to capitalism (or to western European democratic
socialism); and the Russians themselves, badly shaken by the
size and the ferocity of the uprising they had put down with
such overwhelming force, and dismayed by the attention it
received in the world's media, never attempted to repeat the
experience in Europe. From time to time, the tanks might be
sent rumbling into the streets again, as they were in Prague
in 1968, but they would not henceforth open fire on civilians.
Without apparently having given the matter much thought, the
Russians discarded the trump card in their hand: the belief on
the part of eastern Europeans that the Red Army would shoot
them down mercilessly if they rose against the puppet
governments the Soviet Union had imposed on them at the end of
World War II.

More dangerous still, those governments themselves, whose
ultimate legitimacy rested on the threat of armed intervention
by the Soviet Union, ceased to believe that it would ever
intervene again to support them with force the way it did in
Hungary in 1956-and if the Russians would not, then how, when
push came to shove, were the "people's governments" of Poland,
Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic,
Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania to remain in power over the
long haul?

This is always a serious problem of empire, by no means
limited to the Soviet Union. In 1919, the United Kingdom used
violence, albeit on a considerably smaller scale, against the
congress party in India when General Dyer ordered his troops
to open fire on demonstrators in Amritsar, killing 379 of them
at Jallianwallah Bagh, and wounding perhaps three times as
many. The massacre horrified the British-except for the
impenitent General Dyer and his supporters-and the result was
an increasing reluctance on the part of the British government
to use force against the congress party at all. In
consequence, the threat of armed violence-one of the pillars
on which the raj stood-gradually became more and more remote
and unlikely. The Indians ceased to fear it, the British grew
increasingly unwilling to use it on a large scale, and
independence for India thus became only a matter of time.

In much the same way, the Hungarians' uprising against their
own unpopular government and the government's Soviet masters,
while it failed, fatally shook the confidence of the Soviet
government in its ability to control the countries of eastern
Europe-a confidence that had already been weakened by Stalin's
death, by the increasingly (and defiantly) independent
attitude of Tito's Yugoslavia, and by the widening ideological
rift between the Russian and the Chinese communist parties.

After 1956, the Soviet Union found itself in an increasingly
uncomfortable and ambivalent position vis-à-vis the eastern
European "people's democracies," since the Soviet leadership
was desperately trying to dismantle the remnants of Stalinism
at home and bring about a "thaw" in Russian life, while at the
same time continuing to prop up unrepentantly Stalinist
leaders in the Soviet Union's client states....

(Continues...)





Excerpted from Journey to a Revolution
by Michael Korda
Copyright © 2006 by Michael Korda.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Michael Korda is the author of Ulysses S. Grant, Ike, Hero, and Charmed Lives. Educated at Le Rosey in Switzerland and at Magdalen College, Oxford, he served in the Royal Air Force. He took part in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and on its fiftieth anniversary was awarded the Order of Merit of the People's Republic of Hungary. He and his wife, Margaret, make their home in Dutchess County, New York.

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