“I realized then that I’d tried so hard to forget the big things, that all the little things had gone too.”
For twenty years Beth Low has suppressed memories of her mother, Marika, and Hungary. Then her father visits her in London and gives her a package with Hungarian stamps on it. Inside she finds a letter, telling her that Marika has died and an album filled with photos. Photos capturing the seven summers during with Beth visited Hungary.
Beth isn’t sure that she wants to revisit the past she has so successfully forgotten, but once she opens the book, twenty year old memories come flooding back, unstoppable and precise, not a single detail forgotten. Memories of the time when she was still called Erzsebeth, Erzsi for short. Memories of when she was nine and she went to Hungary with her parents for the first time. Hungary, the home her mother had to flee as a child and the place she couldn’t leave for a second time. Memories of the summers she spent visiting her mother and the new man in her life, the painter Zoltan Karoly, a loud man, larger then life.. And memories of the rest of her years, living a very different life in England with her quiet and withdrawn father.
Summer after summer, Erzsi grows up from a child into a teenager, experiencing her first love, first kiss and first glass of wine during the short time she gets to stay in Hungary every year.
And then the last summer. The summer her love for Tamas ran deeper than ever and the year she decided that she too would leave England and make her future in Hungary. The summer of the bombshell that rocked her life and everything she thought was true. The summer that spelt the end of her holidays in Hungary, the end of every contact with Marika and the end of Erzsi.
This book turned out to be one of those unexpected treasures we are lucky enough to come across occasionally. Written in beautiful, descriptive words and sentences it delivers a story filled with love, heartbreak and totally human and fallible characters. Characters with enough depth, faults and good qualities to make them real. There are times you want to embrace them, slap them or just scream at them, because you want the course of their lives to be different from what it is, because you care enough about them to want better for them.
This is a book laden with detail yet never boring or overly informative. It feels as the narrator is describing memories as they come back to her, stating the details as much for her own as benefit as for us, the readers. A picture, at times of photographic clarity, is painted with words that ring true and gently push the reader forward to whatever may be happening next.
It is clear from reading this book that the author has spent a lot of time in Hungary herself. She captures the landscape, the smells and the tastes of the country in vivid detail and with obvious love. A love she’s kind enough to share with the reader.
This would make a wonderful book for a reading group discussion for a multitude of reasons I can’t share here without spoiling the story for those who haven’t read it yet.