Iván Sándor: Követés (Legacy) Novel, 273 pages (Hungary, 2006)
On an autumn afternoon in 2002, an elderly man is strolling along the Danube Promenade. Suddenly, a young bicyclist appears and almost runs him down. The near-accident causes images of other cyclists to flash across the man’s memory, one who rode by this very spot, fifty-eight years earlier. That bicyclist wore the armband of Hungarian Nazis called the Arrow-Cross-men. It was those men who had herded Hungarian Jews to the collection station in the Budapest brick factory.
A fourteen-year-old boy boards a train with his parents. It is he who decades later is standing on the edge of the Danube and beginning a review of the course of his life that began fifty-eight years ago.
The plot of Investigation begins in December 1944. The first-person narrator follows the path of the fourteen-year-old lad—his earlier self—and that of a girl, Vera, of the same age. He tells of the dangers under which the legendary Carl Lutz, then the Swiss vice consul in Budapest—to whom he and his family, together with tens of thousands of other Budapest Jews, owe their lives—carried out his daring acts of rescue.
While dealing with the powerful Nazis, Carl Lutz also appears at the brick factory, together with Friedrich Born, the representative of the International Red Cross, in order to rescue Jews who have been assembled there before being force-marched toward Germany.
On this death march, the fourteen-year-old protagonist finds himself with his young friend Vera. Carl Lutz offers protection to the two of them. Their odyssey begins in Budapest, which has already been set aflame by the Russians. They disappear into a network of bomb shelters, sheds, and Red Cross facilities. Every day, they have to change the path of their flight.
The novel takes place on three levels: the story of the young persons’ flight, the rescue activities of Carl Lutz, and the present experience of the fifty-eight-year-old who is recalling the past.
While Lutz is saving the parents of the girl and boy from the death march in a thrilling rescue on the Austrian border, he and his wife, Gertrud, are now finding themselves in danger. Nevertheless, Lutz never abandons his heroic efforts. This heroism is reported by the narrator, as he does all aspects of his story, without any mythologizing. During the bloody house-to-house fighting and mass executions, Lutz continues with his task, which only sometimes yields success.
The young narrator and his friend Vera are twice forced to flee Red Cross shelters when their lives are threatened. One of the great achievements of this novel is that the youthful love that develops between the two is told in a manner both frank and heartfelt, free from cloying sentimentality. In the hospital, the two meet the young man’s parents, who are hiding there. Meanwhile, Lutz also meets Adolf Eichmann, who was directing the deportation of Hungarian Jews.
It is the last days of the slaughter around Budapest. With the help of Carl Lutz’s diary, the narrator examines the places where he, too, had been as a youth.
Now in the present, the narrator is invited to Locarno by Swiss television to be present at the opening of a film about Carl Lutz. The locale is Locarno’s Grand Hotel. There he experiences how the past is package as a product, how history and man’s fate can be turned into a media event. But here he also meets Carl Lutz’s daughter, which allows him to add another piece of the mosaic to his experiences.
About the book, Iván Sándor has written, “With many eyes must I see in order that my eyes remain alert.”
The family flees to a house under Swiss protection. The Arrow-Cross-men call out those residing there to a roll call.
The novel ends at the height of the siege of Budapest and leaves open the further history of the protagonists. Their future can be inferred only in that the former youth, fifty-eight years later, makes the effort to understand what had occurred in those earlier years. But the book is not only about the protagonist’s investigating his own fate, but also about history itself, an illumination of the depths of human experience.
Investigation is both a thriller and an evocation of the darkest epoch in European history. The processes of forgetting and remembering are illuminated together with the great questions of all mankind: Who are we? What are our origins? Do we have free will?
Kritiken / Reviews:
Bayerischer Rundfunk 2 (DE)
Élet es Irodalom (HU)
Magyar Hirlap (HU)
Mittelbayerische Zeitung (DE)
ORF a.viso (AT)
Prof. Paul Lendvai (AT)
Sand am Meer (AT)
sf magazin (DE)
More works of this writer:
Drága Liv (Dear Liv)
Századvégi történet (An End of Century Story)
Az Argoliszi-öböl. Roman (Working Title: The Argolian Gulf)
Az éjszaka mélyén (The Lives of Adam K.)
<-- Iván Sándor