Review of The Budapest House by Marcus Ferrar
Overview from www.barnesandnoble.com: A Hungarian Jew traumatised by the loss of half her family in Auschwitz returns to Budapest to retrace her roots. She discovers a dramatic personal history that enables her eventually to shed the burden of her past and move forward to a new life.
This is a true story of human beings caught up in the maelstrom of 20th century history – the Nazis, genocide, Cold War, dictatorship, and the struggle to make new lives after the fall of Communism.
Told with great sympathy and warmth, this well researched book brings history to life by recounting the experiences of ordinary men and women confronted with daunting challenges.
The Budapest House is the story of Frances Pinter as well as the author, Marcus Ferrar. I think I picked this book up a few weeks ago and thought that it was going to be something else entirely.
It was nonfiction rather than fiction and it starts out a little slowly. The preface, I think, tries to explain the who mostly. It answers the question: Who is Frances Pinter? What is she like? I meanwhile kept wondering about the why and what. What is the Budapest House and why is it important? More importantly, why did I even pick up this book?
I confess I skipped over this part initially when I realized it wasn’t going to answer my question and went straight to chapter one. It seemed more interesting.
I discovered that The Budapest House is so much more than the story of a house; it is the physical embodiment of Frances’ quest to connect with her Hungarian and Jewish ancestry. We are told that she feels most at home in England though she spent much of her childhood years in the United States and Switzerland.
Somehow that lack of knowing leaves an ache in her to know more, to understand, what life was really like in Hungary for her family—both those who left the country and the ones who stayed behind. When she inherits the house of her grandparents made possible by her mother’s early death, she decides that now is the time to look, to ask, and to find out.
She finds out that she still has a cousin of two in the country and decides to ask them when she arrives in Budapest. She learns more that she bargains for while also being forced to deal with the house’s most notorious (and I think the only) resident, a man called Berkesi. He worked for the secret police during the years of Communism as well as writing Cold War spy novels that the Communists presumably approved of.
While Frances tries to complete the projects assigned to her by George Soros, she must now deal with his demands as she is forced to become his next door neighbor, a neighbor who is unwilling to move out.
She travels all over Eastern Europe for Soros but never forgets her beloved house. It may not be much to others but to her it is her history. She continues to return, year after year, hoping for the day when she will have that moment when something important dawns on her and she at last feels like she belongs.
There are parts of this book that intrigued me a lot but there were some that bored me. I don’t remember which chapter it was but it was somewhere in the middle. I had to force myself to pay attention. So I recommend this book only to those who don’t need constant action in their narratives. I learned more about Hungary in this book than I have known about it my whole life.