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review 2016-06-17 00:17
Péter Gárdos' Fever at Dawn
Fever at Dawn - Gárdos Péter,Elizabeth Szász

Fever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos began with a box of letters, or, more accurately, the letter-writers, who would become his parents.

"But for fifty years I did not know that their letters still existed. In the midst of political unheaval and the chaos of moving to new apartments, my parents had carted them around without ever talking about them. They were preserved by being invisible." (This quote is from the epilogue.)


The novel is translated from the Hungarian by Elizabeth Szász, the language straight-forward, the cadence uncomplicated, and the tone ever-so-slightly formal.


Sometimes a metaphor shines forth. (Here's a gem: "The occasional Swedish nurse, with her braided hair, crisply starched cloak and bonnet, was squeezed in between them [200 soldiers] like a raisin in a bun.")


Mostly, however, the emphasis is on the broader story, and even though the two letter-writers are at the heart of it, they are not necessarily presented clearly to readers. (In some ways, they, too, are preserved by being invisible.)


Consider this description of Miklós, who has decided that he will send a photograph to Lili, even though he is not satisfied with his appearance.


  "Tibor Hirsch, electronic radio technician and photographer’s assistant, hesitated. But Miklós was his friend, and was giving him begging looks, so he put aside his professional pride.
Within five minutes he had worked out how to take a photograph in which my father would be more or less recognisable. He posed Harry in the foreground. In half-profile, at the most flattering angle. A watery sun came out for the briefest moment. Hirsch positioned them with backlight for an artistic feel. He instructed Miklós to run up and down a few metres behind Harry."


Miklós is caught in the image, in a blur, behind his friend. This is highly appropriate, as readers are really only catching a glimpse of him as well, between the lines of letters that he wrote.


But somehow it also captures an aspect of a playful but shy, honest but off-beat man, who, while recovering from the horrors of WWII, in a Swedish hospital, wrote letters to many women seeking companionship, romance even.


When his doctor realises how serious Miklós is taking his pursuit, Dr.Lindholm is not impressed.


“'Last time I tell you, say good bye to her, remember? But even if you were healthy, and you are not, I don’t allow female visitor to male hospital. As a reading man you must understand this.'
'What should I understand?'
'You once mentioned The Magic Mountain? Sensuality is…how I put it…unsettling. Is dangerous.'"


But Miklós is determined: unstoppable and unflappable. He has a poet's heart, and he has something to say.


"The poem soared above the noise of the wheels. Miklós, like a cross between a troubadour and train conductor, marched the length of the carriages. He left half-empty compartments behind him without regret. He had no intention of sitting down. Instead he wanted to form some sort of bond with his fellow travellers, / strangers who were staring in astonishment or sympathy at this passenger holding forth in an unfamiliar language. Maybe some of them could sense in him the lovesick ministreal. Maybe some thought he was a harmless madan. Miklós didn’t give a damn; he walked on, reciting his poem."


Unlike his, Lili's photograph is straight-forward, but her story takes some unexpected turns as well. (Her experience in another Swedish hospital bears some similarities to Miklós' but the relationships between her and her friends are drawn in greater detail, and her prognosis is not determined to be fatal.)


In the wake of a genocidal war, there are deep and devastating themes at work here: freedom and recovery, faith and mortality, loneliness and devotion.


But these ideas are explored in a broader context, so that readers can explore the layers at will.


Rather like Lili's father's suitcase: "Every Monday at dawn Lili’s father, Sándor Reich, trudged down Hernád Street in Budapest carrying two huge Vulkan cabin trunks. In each one, like the layers of an onion, dozens of smaller and smaller cases and bags lay one inside the other."


Fever at Dawn is a simple and short story, but its reverberations cross generations and will attract a wide variety of readers.


This review originally appeared here, on BuriedInPrint.

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review 2016-06-02 18:11
Fever At Dawn
Fever at Dawn - Gárdos Péter,Elizabeth Szász

**A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review**

This being based off a incredible true story, I feel pretty bad criticizing it. But it has to be done. And then there are bits of the story that personally disappointed me; things which, for the most part, have nothing to do with the writing. So all the super-subjective thoughts are at the end of the review, but first...

This is a translated book, which is awesome. Media from other countries made readily available and understood for us English speaking peoples. However, I feel like maybe a lot was lost in translation. This is a hopeful story, yes, but hope amid disease and death and darkness. This is a love story, but love amid hatred and war. And even when these horrifying elements are at the forefront, I did not see them as such. The idea and the words are there, but there was a gravity missing to it all. Similarly, though this is a love story, I did not get a good sense of love between Lili and Miklos, and it was not as hopeful and inspiring as it should have been, giving the true story. I felt nothing.

Additionally, though there are quotes from Lili and Miklos' letters strewn throughout, most of the story is prose. While it worked for some parts of the book, I think maybe just their letters or, at the very least, more of them would have been better, due to that we are told Lili and Miklos wrote often to each other, and grew to love one another through their letters, but we don't actually get to see much of that.

Also, the book is written from the POV of Lili and Miklos' son, who is, of course, the author of the book. While it could have been a nice touch, it didn't come across as very personal and usually came across as jarring, as you would be in Miklos' head and then Miklos would be referred to as "my father", and it always made me do a double-take.

Now for the subjective thoughts...

One of Miklos' friends, while a good friend, was pretty constantly chock of innuendos. Miklos was a die-hard socialist, which was just hard to hear promoted so valiantly and zealously. Though probably not aware of how serious it was, Lili received the Eucharist as a non-Catholic, but still intended to convert. Miklos claims to be very serious about conversion to the Catholic Church, but really seems to be just serious about Lili. He proposes a less binding oath to the Church, in which they would be bound to the Church, but the Church not to them?? I've never personally heard of such a thing, but that doesn't mean anything. More research needed on that bit. I guess regarding the religious stuff, there was enough mentioned about their religious beliefs and desires to make it a pretty big deal, but not a lot of follow-through. I wanted to know if Lili and Miklos ever converted and became practicing Catholics. Did Miklos ever really wish to be Catholic at any point in his life, or was it all for Lili?

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review 2016-04-15 00:56
from FictionZeal.com re: Fever at Dawn by Peter Gardos
Fever at Dawn - Gárdos Péter,Elizabeth Szász

It’s July 1945 and Miklos is seriously ill having just barely survived the Nazi camps during WWII.  In a Swedish hospital, Dr. Lindholm said he has no more than six months to live; he has incurable Tuberculosis (TB).  Impulsively, Miklos began seeking a wife.  He wrote to Hungarian women in hospitals and rehabilitation centers in Sweden —  117 letters in all.  He had beautiful handwriting with “shapely letters” and “elegant loops.”  Lili Reich was one of the few who took the time to respond. He tells his friend, “… she’s the one.”  She was a patient at the Smalandsstenar rehabilitation hospital.  After many letters, they finally agreed to meet.  He traveled quite some distance.  Lili had also suffered during the war and was left in a very frail state from the brutality she’d endured within a Nazi camp.


Peter Gardos is the author.  He is also the son of Miklos and Lily.  He tells this sweet romantic story from the letters exchanged between his parents – two people who survived the Holocaust.  This book was originally written in Hungarian, so I’m not sure if it was due to translation issues, but the writing told in third person is broken periodically referencing ‘my father’.  The story was charming, and of course based on reality, but I didn’t feel the author personified the emotional level I would have expected of their relationship.  Rating: 3 out of 5.

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