My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was SO excited to get a review copy of this book – I read an interview with the author about a week before I was approved for the book and was fascinated. We’ve all read memoirs from Holocaust survivors, some even from their children documenting their parents’ stories.
But what about the third generation? The ones whose grandparents and great-grandparents survived the chaos of WW2 Europe and its aftermath? How does the past affect them? That is exactly what this book explores, and it’s really insightful.
Sacha Batthyany is a Swiss journalist of Hungarian descent who grew up with parents who mourned for the “old Hungary,” and being told stories of his grandfather, who survived 10 years in a Soviet gulag following WW2 (as a Hungarian/Axis soldier, he was taken as a POW by the Soviet regime). One day, Sacha is shown an article by a colleague which claims his great aunt not only hosted an elaborate party in the waning days of the war, but took her guests out during the festivities to shoot 180 Jewish slave laborers who were working nearby. Shocked, Sacha begins a search for the truth about his family’s history and finds out that history may affect the present more than we think.
The crime mentioned in the description actually doesn’t take center stage for the whole novel – Batthyanny focuses more on his grandparents’ stories as the book goes on. But all of the events of his family’s past really come together in a really revealing way which explores the connections between truth and as it’s known, “the banality of evil.” The books themes of facing the truth and what makes someone “good” or “bad” are really intensely explored as Batthyany has to face his family’s actions or inactions and what that means for him.
As in most stories, there’s a lot of gray areas as more and more is revealed.
I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of these “third generation” novels, and if they’re as good as this one, it’s an exciting prospect.
Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in history and its legacy.