This interesting historical novel begins with the Hungarian uprising in 1956 Budapest and moves through to London and Devon in the 60s and 70s
With the Nazi occupation of the country not too far behind them in post Second World War Hungary, the citizens of that country have another oppressive regime in the form of their communist masters. When Russian tanks roll in to suppress the student uprising, Lάszló, a journalist, his wife Teréz and their two daughters, Katalin and Marika have to escape the country because Lάszló is a wanted man. He’s served a prison sentence, was conscripted to fight at the front for his outspoken views and his anti communist political stance. Teréz and Marika manage to get onto a train to Vienna to stay with family there and Katalina and her father make a perilous journey over mountainous, snowy routes into Austria.
Reunited there are tensions between the two sisters who have a difficult relationship throughout the book. Marika is impulsive and a bit on the wild side, Katalina, more reserved with an introspective personality. Shortly before she left Budapest she was told that she would be given the star role of the Snow Queen in a ballet performance and the disappointment of losing out on this stays with her for a long time. The family live in a pokey flat in Kentish Town before the girls go away to a boarding school for girls where they each encounter their own problems and some prejudice towards their refugee status.
When tragedy befalls the family and the girls are sent to rural coastal Devon to stay with their aunt Klάra, sister of their father, the problems between the sisters spiral out of control. Marika loves the area, her aunt and her dog but Katalina doesn’t and makes every effort to return to London.
I found this novel to be an absorbing and fascinating read. A lot of issues were highlighted. Family dynamics, particularly those between sisters who were the complete opposite of each other and the issues facing both refugees and evacuees. The displacement of people during wartime and and the lasting psychological damage that can happen.
At first I wasn’t very keen on Marika and preferred Katalina but by the end of the book I had the opposite view.
I liked the character of aunt Klάra who had mixed feelings towards the girls of wanting to care for them but not relishing the intrusion of them, or the ongoing drama of their relationship, into her usually secluded quiet life.
The author has obviously researched the historic timeline of Hungary and the effects of war and conflict thoroughly. At first I wondered if she’d lived through the experiences described in the book herself because she brought it to life vividly and weaved it all into a fascinating story. All in all it was a well written, darned good read and the story kept me interested right until the end.
Emotive. Dramatic. Heart rending