11 October 2007

Hungary: A time now gone

If you are searching for Hungarian ancestors or want to know more about how they lived, One Must Also Be Hungarian by Adam Biro appears to be a good source.

The Jewish Exponent's literary editor, Robert Leiter, reviewed the book here

Adam Biro's One Must Also Be Hungarian, recently published by Chicago University Press, is a short book -- topping out at just 168 small pages -- but it contains multitudes. Within its series of portraits, it tells the long, wondrous but ultimately tragic history of Hungary's Jews through the lens of the author's family, following them from the 19th century, on to the dislocations caused by the first World War, as well as through the devastations wrought by Nazism and Stalinism.

Biro offers profiles of a number of his spirited and resourceful forebears, all of the material adding up to a moving family portrait that also manages to tell much about the greater Jewish experience in Central Europe over the course of two centuries.

Biro is founder and owner of the art-book publishing house Biro Éditeur in Paris and, in the English edition introduction, writes "I wanted to tell the story of a world and a time now gone."

Writes Leiter, Biro begins by discussing the earliest relative he found, Abraham Finkelstein, born in 1806, discovered when Biro was going through his late father's papers:

There are wonderful bits of sadness and even touches of absurdity strewn throughout these early pages. Finkelstein Jakab, Biro's great-grandfather, a cart driver and seltzer water deliverer, was so poor he couldn't afford to raise his children, so that Biro's grandfather, born Finkelstein Jenö, was put up for adoption.

The story continues through World War II, a story of life and tragedy.

The family history turns tragic, as the Nazi period looms up, and members of Biro's clan are subjected to acts of barbarity that horrified and sickened me. The pages devoted to that horrific period -- where the author never flinches from the truth -- will be etched in my memory forever.

Read the complete review here.

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