Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2011 (Vintage)
Why I decided to read: found this one while browsing in a bookstore
How I acquired my copy: 30th St. station bookstore, Philadelphia, May 2011
I totally picked this book up on a whim as I was waiting for a train in 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. I had about three other books in my suitcase (for an overnight trip!), but this was one of those books that sits on display right at the front of the store. And since I was in the mood for a big, long saga, this one seemed like it would be right up my alley.
There are two distinctive parts to this novel. The first part begins in 1937 when Andras Levi, a young, gauche Hungarian-Jewish man, comes to Paris to study architecture. He meets and falls in love with Klara, a woman nine years his senior. So far, so good. But with war on the horizon, things don’t remain calm for long, and Andras and Klara are forced to move back to Hungary. This novel covers a lot of ground, literally, from Paris to Budapest and the work camps of the Carpathians.
If you know anything about history, you know that things can’t turn out well for everyone, but you continue to read this book anyways. It’s a stunning panorama of WWII, as told from the point of view of a handful of normal, real people (based on the author’s family members’ experience). There are some heartbreaking, very real moments in the book, and I loved how the author described them.
There’s a point in the middle of the book where things get repetitive; Andras is drafted into the work camps, then returns home, then goes back to the work camps, etc. The author tends to skim over some of the more painful stories in the book (i.e., Klara’s past, which, despite the tragedy to it, I thought was remarkable). And in the second half of the book, Andras and Klara’s relationship fades into the background—as do their personalities. Be warned that this is an extremely intense book, but I literally couldn’t put it down—even though I usually find books on or set during WWII extremely depressing. You’d think that a novel on the holocaust might not be the best choice for this time of year (when I’m looking for beach reads), but I thought this book was excellent.