Book: My Happy Days in Hell

After visiting Budapest, a city that transpires history, I began to think about Hungarian literature (I how I hadn’t read any of its authors). A friend of mine recommended György Faludy – a poet, writer and translator who had lived through WWII and the German and Soviet occupation of Hungary.

It turns out that this is not your typical WWII account – Faludy escaped Nazi repression at home and likely deportation to concentration camps by fleeing Hungary and living on the run: moving to France, Morocco, and finally, the United States. I found it quite refreshing to see this period from another perspective, one that describes what it took to figure out where to run to and how to travel to these places as a war refugee.

The author tells us about his experiences during this period, while constantly describing what went through his head. From the moment he escapes to African soil, it almost seems that he was oblivious to what was going on in Europe (though in his defence, he probably knew a lot less than what we do today).

While I know that it is easy to judge without having lived the same experiences, I did sometimes wonder why he didn’t speak of his family until later years when he is back in Hungary and learns their fate. I sometimes had trouble reading it as he does come across as a narcissistic and egotistical man – from the way he deals with his wife to the way he often admits doing things only to ensure he’d stay relevant and famous in posterior years. Now this may be because he is so devoted to his work, which is a much more romantic interpretation, and he does feel saddened sometimes, but put simply, this became a bit boring.

In America, Faludy volunteers for military service to help fight the Nazis but, like he says in Part Three of the book, his “reasons for volunteering were more biographical than anything else”. Once Hungary is freed from the Nazi party, he returns home for many different reasons (including, of course, that his writing would never be as good in English as it was in Hungarian), but also because he feels guilt (finally). So Faludy returns home, fully aware that he may not be able to leave again once he enters the country.

The political refugee we know turns political prisoner – first tortured in 60 Andrássy Út (which today is the House of Terror Museum) and later deported to a bolshevik camp. This, for me, is when the book becomes more interesting. Maybe because now he truly had something to fight for, maybe because what he goes through strengthens his human relationships or perhaps because there is more happening; this is when I think he succeeds in describing human behaviour and that is why the book becomes more interesting and finally manages to make you question more about humankind.

Overall a good book, but at times it felt that the translation to English was a bit too literal and, personally, I didn’t feel as much empathy as I like to with a protagonist.

♥♥♥ (3/5)

Author: György Faludy | Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics | Translation: Kathleen Szasz

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