The strength of the 17 stories from the childhood of a man, who was brought up in the town in Transylvania, during World War II is that while he retained the naivety and openmindness of a child, he also noticed and noted the what makes people human under tragic circumstances, both in the best and the worst ways. The subtitle of the book “Egy kisfiu kalandjai veszterhes idokben,” roughly translated “A young boy’s adventures in turbulent times” indicates its topic well.
The author, born in the mid 1930’s, grew up in a Hungarian Catholic family and lived in the city of Maramarossziget, that after World War I belonged to Romania. About a quarter of the town’s population, before the Holocaust was Jewish. After World War II the city became again part of Romania and was called Sighetu Marmatie. The family felt forced to move to Hungary shortly after that. Following the 1956 revolution, in which Fulop participated, he left the old world and has been living the rest of his life in Austria and the USA. The scope of the short stories, none of them longer than a dozen pages, covers the period between him being 7-8 years old and his move to Hungary.
As I was reading the stories, written, in simple, yet elegant language I was wondering whether the simplicity of the style was to make it sound like a child, with limited vocabulary and sophistication, is telling the story, or it was the result of man’s changing relation to his mother tongue, after living out of his homeland for over 50 years. Either way, I enjoyed that the style was straightforward without any fancy words that would make it feel artificial. Geza Perlitzy’s illustrations also fit the tome, outlines drawn with confident hand and areas fill ed with single colors, they look like the outputs of professional coloring books for kids. Yet they convey the basics of a material culture long gone evoked by the writing itself.
All the stores were told in first person singular except one: Parittyalovesek (“slingshot shots”), in which he described how he used a slingshot to send written messages to people in a camp, over the heads of the guards. This was a dangerous activity, for which he could have been shot dead and almost was. This story was written in third person. I guess it was easier to process the relived danger by looking at it from a depersonalized perspective. It was a series of repeatedly heroic acts, that helped to keep the spirit up for people on both sides of the fences.
The most valuable lesson from the book is karmic. The author’s mother fed Jews in the camps, who in return years later helped the family’s life to get back on track. They treated with respect and hospitality the Russian soldiers who were stationed in their house, who in turn saved them from troubles that other soldiers wanted to inflict upon them. They wanted to keep their Hungarian national pride and that was helped by their Romanian neighbors, who they were on best terms with. In short: act in a benevolent way, because you never know when you will rely on others’ benevolence. It is a lesson that is hard to learn and stick to in turbulent times, when selfishness tempts everyone to be for themselves.
Publisher’s page: Fekete Sas