Saturday, August 24, 2013

I Kiss Your Hands Many Times: Hearts, Souls, and Wars in Hungary by Marianne Szegedy-Maszak

Marianne Szegedy-Maszák’s parents, Hanna and Aladár, met and fell in love in Budapest in 1940. He was a rising star in the foreign ministry—a vocal anti-Fascist who was in talks with the Allies when he was arrested and sent to Dachau. She was the granddaughter of Manfred Weiss, the industrialist patriarch of an aristocratic Jewish family that owned factories, were patrons of intellectuals and artists, and entertained dignitaries at their baronial estates. Though many in the family had converted to Catholicism decades earlier, when the Germans invaded Hungary in March 1944, they were forced into hiding. In a secret and controversial deal brokered with Heinrich Himmler, the family turned over their vast holdings in exchange for their safe passage to Portugal.

Aladár survived Dachau, a fragile and anxious version of himself. After nearly two years without contact, he located Hanna and wrote her a letter that warned that he was not the man she’d last seen, but he was still in love with her. After months of waiting for visas and transit, she finally arrived in a devastated Budapest in December 1945, where at last they were wed.

Framed by a cache of letters written between 1940 and 1947, Szegedy-Maszák’s family memoir tells the story, at once intimate and epic, of the complicated relationship Hungary had with its Jewish population—the moments of glorious humanism that stood apart from its history of anti-Semitism—and with the rest of the world. She resurrects in riveting detail a lost world of splendor and carefully limns the moral struggles that history exacted—from a country and its individuals.

I've read many books focused around the Hitler Era.  I, by  no means, would consider myself an expert, but I'm also no novice.  This book brings a fresh perspective to this infamous time in history.  Not only do we get to see how the war ravaged the country and people in it, we also get a personal glimpse at how it affected one family.  
Along the way, there are pieces of letters that Aladar had written and I found those to be the most fascinating part of the book.  As a reader, we get transported to another time and place and the beauty and clarity with which he writes will leave no reader unaffected. 
If you pick this up to read it and find the first chapter too dry for your tastes, don't let that stop you from continuing.  I, myself, found it monotonous and difficult to read, but once you get to chapter two it becomes more personalized and not quite so 'fact throwing'. 
This is a must read for all of you WW2 buffs out there.  The unique perspective of the time and those attempting their best to live in it is knowledge well-gained.  

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Shawn

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The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, "Why?" and sometimes he thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought, "Inasmuch as which?" and sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about.

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