Book Reviews


[A special thank you to Landon, our son, who loves Hungarian history and happily reads (and re-reads) all the books I ask him to review for this project!]

The Eclipse of the Crescent Moon by Géza Gárdonyi

The Eclipse of the Crescent Moon by Géza Gárdonyi tells the story of the siege of Eger by the Turks in 1552. This book is similar to the famous G.A. Henty’s novels in that it is a rousing adventure with a historical outline and filled in with a fictionalized story around the real person Gergely (Gregory) Bornemissza. If you have read Victor Hugo’s unabridged Les Miserables, the chapters of European history and passage of time between sections in Eclipse will seem familiar.

The story begins with the kidnapping of Gergely and his childhood friend Eva by a roaming band of Turks. We follow the lives of these children in an occupied Hungary under the Turks through their teen years and culminating in the defense of Eger of which Gergely and Eva play key roles. The Eclipse of the Crescent Moon contains adventure, suspense, true love and self-sacrifice; all the elements for a great tale. Beware, by the time you turn the final page you might suffer a bout of Hungarian patriotism!

This book can appeal to any reader. History buffs will love this book as will any reader who loves a bit of adventure. I doubt children under the age of 14 could read through this book alone but I think this would make a good book for a family with children 10 and older to read through together. This book does have content I would not recommend for children under 10. Happy reading!

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Upon the Head of the Goat by Aranka Siegal

Upon the Head of the Goat by Aranka Siegal

Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944
By Aranka Siegal

Piri and her sister, Roszi, are sent to their grandmother’s (Babi) farm in Komjaty, Ukraine for the summer just like every summer. Before the summer ends Hungary invades Slovakia and Ukraine with the help of the Germans to reclaim land with ethnic Hungarian people on it. Piri cannot go home, the border is closed and she cannot get letters to or from her parents! As the school year starts she must attend the village school but the Ukrainian teacher has been replaced with a Hungarian teacher who demands all the students learn Hungarian. Piri’s friends in Komjaty begin to resent her for being Hungarian.

After staying with her Babi many months longer than expected, Piri’s parents are finally able to come through the border to take her and her sister home. When they return to Beregszász they find it very different; Mother is pregnant with another baby, Father has lost his rank as an officer in the Army because he is part Czech and he is now just a Private. With him gone, Piri’s mother must have their neighbor run Father’s shop because Jews are facing increasing restrictions and discrimination. All of Piri’s friends are no longer allowed to play with her because she is a Jew. Eventually Piri, her mother, and her siblings are forced from their home to live in a “Jews only” ghetto on the outskirts of Beregszász. Waiting, they are told, for a train to Germany.

Piri’s account of World War II spans several years beginning in 1939, when she is nine, to 1944, when she is fourteen. The reader is able to see what the war was like from a child’s perspective, without the mess of politics but with the harsh reality of the human cost of war even far from the front lines. This book is appropriate for ages 14+ but I encourage parents to read this book to even those as young as 10 years old.

Piri’s story is moving and disturbing and is one that needs to be shared.

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resized-webRefugeeRefugee Child: My Memories if the 1956 Hungarian Revolution
By Bobbie Kalman

“Refugee Child” is an autobiography by Bobbie Kalman that focuses on her experience during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 when she was only a little girl of nine.

This book is written for children and specifically from a child’s perspective. Key definitions and some background information in the beginning of the book will help all readers, particularly children, understand the city of Magyarovar, Bobbie’s beloved family, and the terror of the AVO (Hungarian Secret Police). It may seem a bit simple for adult readers but I appreciated reading about the 1956 Revolution from Bobbie’s point of view.

Bobbie and her family go through several tough situations, they see the carnage after the attack at the Radio Station, fear for family members safety, and make the long and dangerous trek to the Austrian border in the dead of winter. After spending time in Austria Bobbie and her family receive visas to Canada where they begin their new lives. Children of all ages have had to flee their homes and become refugees and this book can help the general population understand some of what refugees encounter. Due to the intensity of some of the chapters, I would not recommend this book for children under 7. Regardless of the age of your child I would recommend reading it with them. I hope you enjoy this story!

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andau newThe Bridge at Andau
by James Michener

The Bridge at Andau was based on numerous interviews Michener conducted with Hungarian refugees immediately after the revolution. First published in 1957, the book is split into sections each following a fictional person whose story is a combination of broad themes and horrifying details together from several real refugees. The horrors suffered by the Hungarian people are so great that this book is not recommended for children under 14.

The reader will notice that there is no one class or background that unites freedom fighters. They are factory workers, students, communist party members and soldiers. All are Magyars and all are committed to freedom. These freedom fighters gave everything they had to gain and defend their liberties and they suffered and lost much.

As an American it makes me truly appreciate the freedoms I have and thankful that for over 200 years there have always been people ready to give everything they had in defense of freedom. That is a fitting thought this 4th of July weekend. God Bless the Magyars and God Bless the United States of America!

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FALL OF RED STAR (1)The Fall of the Red Star
by Helen M. Szablya and Peggy King Anderson

In the fall of 1956, fourteen-year-old Stephen and his friends are drawn into revolution. After decades of brutal oppression by the Soviet Union and treacherous AVO Secret Police (Hungarians who serve the Soviets against their own people), the people of Hungary rise up to demand basic human rights such as the freedom of speech and religion, free elections, and freedom from search and seizure.

During the sudden, brutal, and bloody revolution, the Hungarian people defeat the Soviets and the AVO and drive them from Budapest and the other major cities. The joy of victory and newfound freedom is tempered with the loss of family and friends in the fighting and the emotional toll killing takes on a young man.

Only a week later, the reinforced Soviet soldiers come back with a vengeance to Budapest and the rest of Hungary, this time with overwhelming numbers of tanks. The revolutionaries are crushed, and their newfound freedom is torn away. Stephen and his family are forced to flee the city and undertake a perilous journey to the Austrian border for safety and freedom.

The Fall of the Red Star is a wonderful book for all ages, particularly young people 10-16. Violent scenes may disturb younger children so I encourage parents to read this book first then read it with their children to help them understand the difficult situations Stephen is in. As an American who loves and values my freedom, I connect with Stephen’s desire to be free and to defend those he loves. After only five chapters, the raw emotion in the story is overwhelming and requires the reader to search inside him- or herself: if faced with this situation, would I fight for my freedom or would I bow my head to tyranny?

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