"Over wine, steeped in Budapest, feeling close, I asked my parents what their romance had been like. They exchanged quick looks....But for once my father took charge. Smiling, he reached for another piece of bread and said with the sealed air of finality, "My dear, that is none of your business."
The title of this book grabbed me, the implied sense of surprise and gratitude captured in a simple act. But there's nothing simple about the family history of the author.
Fortunately, daughter and author Marianne Szegedy-Maszak makes it her business and with interviews and family documents reveals the momentous love story that spanned decades and stayed alive despite the Holocaust, long absences, mental issues, and a loss of class station. Szegedy-Maszak describes how the Holocaust separated them, but what I found more interesting was the period they experienced leading up to the Holocaust. The family's lifestyle and activities, and how devastated their lives became was severe and particularly focused on their Hungarian origin. Their Jewish heritage also doomed them and the details of what they went through are hard to read. Especially because this is non-fiction....supported by names and dates. Fictionalized accounts of this time period are many but they don't compare. She describes her discoveries as a "gossamer sliver of time, that dividing line between one way of looking at the world and another."
While they survive, their family is not the same. Stripped of their wealth, unsure even of their identities (and all the facets of identity that we know about ourselves), they rebuild. They succeed, even if that meant for some suspenseful reading. Someone compared it to The Hare with the Amber Eyes, a history of a well-known Jewish family torn up by the same time period but focusing on the collection of netsuke curated by a descendant. The similarity is apt but this feels more personable, more gut-wrenching while the other seemed to border on being polite rather than describe the violence (still well worth reading).
The book also encompasses the political and financial impact of the aftermath of the Holocaust and strengthening the Hungarian nation, with politics in the US and large amounts of money changing hands to try and assure a future beyond those of individuals.