Friday, October 12, 2012

The Summer My Father Died ~ Yudit Kiss.

We often often focus on the big picture, attracted to that large screen cinematic experience. A nation’s rise and fall will be written in bold letters, large enough to be seen by generations yet  to be born, its major players absorbing all the light, leaving the rest of us finding our way, our own individual path in the shadows of those whom history remembers. This book, although a memoir, charts the history of Budapest through the twentieth century, from just before the second world war, through the rise of communism and its subsequent fall, and yet it does so through a finer lens, through the life of one individual, Fűlöp Holló, a fierce supporter & defender of communism and Yudit s Father.


Fűlöp Holló’s story starts in Prague, where he lived a golden existence in the warmth of an extended family. His folks had moved there from Hungary, some years earlier  to escape the strict anti-Jewish laws that had no longer allowed his grandfather to practice medicine. Prague (Czechoslovakia) at this time was a true European capital with highly developed industry and enjoying a period of peace and stability, thereby allowing his family to flourish within its old-fashioned bourgeois democracy. This was not to last, by the spring of 1939 this period of freedom would disappear as the Nazi jackboot marched into the country and, on the 16th of March, Hitler went to Czechoslovakia and from Prague Castle proclaimed the German protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

For some reason it was decided by the family to go back to the homeland,  back to Hungary and to Budapest. It seems a bit stupid to say that Fűlöp, was one of the lucky ones because he survived what happened next; that a mothers love saved him from the extermination camps, but how ever I put it seems hollow & doesn’t convey what he went through, for example, between 20% and 40% of Greater Budapest's 250,000 Jewish inhabitants died through Nazi and Arrow Cross Party genocide during 1944 and early 1945.

Budapest jewish WWII memorial shoes on river bank


In 1949, Hungary was declared a Communist People’s Republic & Fűlöp Holló, would be one of its most  vehement supporters & would remain so for the rest of his life.

Yudit Kiss’s book focuses on the the final years of her fathers life, attempting to pierce through the barriers that have made a puzzle of her fathers past and have left her with a catalogue of unanswered questions. Questions such as..


  • Where does his unshakeable belief in Communism stem from?
  • Why do others refer to her and her family as Jewish, when they are strict atheists?
  • Why does her father have no relatives? 
  • How could her father, who’s great belief was the the betterment of mankind, turn a blind eye to the atrocities done under its banner.

It’s these and other related questions that she attempts to find some answer for and in the process, has to reappraise her own ideology as an individual and as someone growing up immersed in the philosophy of her fathers world, this becomes more apparent the more aware she is of the world beyond the confines of her nations palisades, whether these were internal or external. Making this book as much about Yudit and her life as it does her fathers.

This book surprised me, at first glance it’s a book about an academic and dyed in the wool communist which didn’t really appeal and yet this is merely one of its facets. It is also about a family’s sacrifice and an individuals survival under conditions that could easily go in the Oxford English dictionary’s as the definition of hell, about a rejection of a past and its rediscovery, its about all the contradictions and half truths people use to get by. But most of all it is about love, family love, which makes this a warm beautiful tale full of poetic insight, written by someone with a love of the written word.Summer My Father Died


Yudit Kiss was born in Budapest in 1956. After having worked in Hungary, Mexico and the UK, she moved to Switzerland in the early 1990s, where she currently lives. Yudit is a Hungarian economist, based in Geneva, and the author of several academic publications dealing with the post-Cold War economic transformations of Central Europe. Her articles of wider interest have been published by the Guardian, Lettre International, El Nacional, Nexos, Gazeta Wyborcza & Eurozine. This is her first literary work.

Telegram books(Yudit Kiss)

Yudit Kiss (open Democracy)


This book is also full of writers, poets and their works, and has a set of author’s notes, containing anthologies where you can find English translations of the Hungarian poetry contained within the pages of the book, a resource I shall be mining for years. This note also states that:

“Unlike geographical Hungary (93,030 Square Kilometres, 10 million inhabitants), Hungarian literature is a vast, extremely rich country that is mostly inaccessible to non-Hungarian speakers. There are however, some excellent translations available in English, thanks to a few committed and gifted translators”

George Szirtes is one of these “committed and gifted translators”, a Hungarian-born British poet, writing in English, as well as a translator from the Hungarian language into English. He has lived in the United Kingdom for most of his life. He has won a variety of prizes for his work, including the 2004 T. S. Eliot Prize, for his collection Reel and the Bess Hokin Prize for poems in Poetry magazine, 2008. His translations from Hungarian poetry, fiction and drama have also won numerous awards.

George Szirtes(Wiki)


Literature(British Council)

tlogThis book was published by Telegram, an independent publisher committed to publishing the best in new and classic international writing, from debut novelists to established literary heavyweights. Telegram has published literary fiction from thirteen languages, ranging from Korean, Chinese, Arabic and Farsi to French, Croatian, Hungarian and Icelandic. In 2010 Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu won the Man Asian Literary Prize and Sabra Zoo by Mischa Hiller won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book Award.

For a more in-depth  review of this book visit, A Common Reader & say hello from me.


Lisa Hill said...

I read about this book at A Common Reader too, and put it on my wishlist. Your review has made me abandon economising after my trip to Russia LOL, now I've bought it.

Bellezza said...

WWII literature is hard for me. It's so painful to read, to see the suffering that people underwent both physically and emotionally. Such valid questions the author had to ask herself, ones which would be almost easier to ignore but then there's no answers to be had in one's life.

I'll never forget standing as a child in Anne Frank's Secret Annexe, completely confused and bewildered by what I'd learned had been done to her and her family (and all the rest of the people involved in the genocide). I think in many ways it's made me highly sensitive to the plights of others, and I think, actually, that the generations which have come after me shouldn't have been so sheltered. We need to know of such horrors so that we don't ever, ever commit them again.

Violet said...

I like the sound of this book, and the fact that the translation is good has sold me. It's all rather interesting to me, the dichotomies inherent in people's lives, and doubly so within the context of World War II in Europe and its aftermath. Have you read anything by Lily Brett? She's an Australian poet and writer whose parents were Holocaust survivors. She lives in NYC and has written some interesting fiction and essays about her life, which is very much an extension of her parents' lives. Anyway, thanks for the review and making me aware of this book. I'm off to track it down. :)

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Lisa,I was just finishing this when I saw Tom's review,which I've added to the bottom of mine. Would apologise for disrupting your book, but if your anything like me, it would have happened sooner or later :-}

Ciao Bellezza,can understand that pain, but as you say without the knowledge of it, we cannot take measures to try to stop future ones.

Hi Violet, would be tempted to say, this would be one for you with its memoir angle & its setting, but I think I've suggested before & been wrong, so will state that it is a great read & has a wonderful resource in its author notes. Not aware of having read any Lily Brett, so thanks for the introduction I'll search her out.

markbooks said...

You've really sold me on this one - it wasn't one I was planning on taking much of a look at to be honest, but you've opened my eyes to something that could be right up my street, thanks!

Mel u said...

This sounds like a very interesting book. Maybe it shows us the need for absolutes brought on by horrors

@parridhlantern said...

Hello Mark, It's not normally the sort of book I gravitate towards, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, in fact surprised myself with my delight in it & the references in the author's note are almost worth the entrance fee by themselves.

Hi Mel,I think that by totally negating his past & supplanting his faith/heritage/ancestry etc with the totality of his communist beliefs was his way of coping with those horrors, by removing himself from any links with the victims, he wouldn't see himself as one. It's a great thought provoking read.

@parridhlantern said...

Here is a fantastic post on this book, written by Eva S. Balogh, from the Hungarian Spectrum, please check it out for a great perspective on this book

stujallen said...

seems like a very touching book Gary and also I like your choice of pics to go with the review ,all the best stu

Tom Cunliffe said...

I really don't think my review is more "in-depth". You've done a great job here and have got right to the essence of the book.Thanks for the link back

@parridhlantern said...

Thanks Tom, I thought yours had more detail, whereas my was setting. Did you check out the link in the comments to the other post.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Stu & thanks, I thought they fitted well.