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“The Afterlife of Stars moved me more than any other novel I’ve read in recent memory.” –Tim O’Brien
New York Times Book Review: Editors’ Choice
“10 New Books We Recommend This Week” —New York Times Book Review
A Brother’s Love is Forever
As Russian tanks roll through the cobblestone streets of Budapest and shots ring out, young Robert and Attila Beck, inseparable brothers, peer from the boot of a toppled statue of Stalin at the first grisly signs of revolution. The year is 1956. That October day, Russian soldiers will storm their family home, prompting the boys’ hurried escape from the city with their parents, grandmother, and two cousins. Not all will survive. Their immediate destination is Paris, and the town house of Hermina, their great-aunt, once a renowned opera singer, now a recluse who wears long gloves to preserve her dignity against a past scarred by an unspeakable violence.
Along the way, these two brothers encounter mysterious fellow travelers, witness the bewildering sights of a nation in transition, and grapple with rivalry and loss, while never losing their capacity for joy or their appreciation of humor, and each other, as they stare down the unaccountable and the absurd. Robert, the younger, idolizes the fiery Attila, whose growing edge of anger and rebellion threatens to endanger them both. As exiles in Paris, they seek adventure and whatever semblance of home they might find, from the unfamiliar streets to the labyrinthine sewers beneath. When the duo uncovers a long-held family secret involving a double agent and a daring Holocaust rescue, this novel hurtles toward its cataclysmic conclusion. A fleeting decision by Attila has consequences that will last a lifetime, and the bond that has proved unbreakable may be the brothers’ undoing.
With dazzling storytelling and a firm belief in the power of humor in the face of turmoil, Joseph Kertes has crafted a fierce saga of identity and love that resonates through its final page. The Afterlife of Stars is not only a stirring account of one displaced family’s possibilities for salvation, but also an extraordinary tale of the singular and enduring ties of brotherhood.
Beware, O wanderer, the road is walking too.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
On October 24, 1956, the day I turned 9.8, my grandmother came to take me out of school in Budapest’s sixth district. We were in the middle of reviewing decimal points because of a mistake a classmate named Mary had made. Other parents and grandparents were arriving too with the same aim, although no one had come yet to get Zoli, the boy who sat beside me.
My grandmother gripped my hand as we made our way down Andrassy Avenue. At the Oktogon, where many of the big avenues of the city met, a crowd had formed. We couldn’t get by. A tank stood in the street, a bold red star shining on its flank. There were Russian soldiers too, but no one paid attention to them. Everyone was gazing up instead at eight Hungarian soldiers, one hanging from each lamppost around the Oktogon. My grandmother pulled hard on my arm, but not before I had joined the lookers.
Most of the Hungarian soldiers weren’t dead yet. A couple had stuck out their tongues as they dangled—one seemed to be smiling, four others wriggled and bucked, but the nearest one to us, straight above my grandmother and me, looked down at us with evergreen eyes, but there was no anger in the eyes, or even light.
My grandmother breathed into the crown of my hair, sending hot tendrils down over me. “Come, please,” she whispered, and I shuddered.
The crowd was quiet. Even the few people sobbing were doing it silently, swallowing the sound. From a little way down the street came the sound of an orchestra and a woman singing a sad song. I looked around until my grandmother turned me toward the music.
“It’s a record,” she said. “From over there.”
We spotted an open window above a lacy café a half block away, the white tongue of a curtain flapping out from the window.
“It’s Mozart,” my grandmother said, steering me onward. “His ‘Laudate Dominum,’ I think. ‘Praise the Lord,’ it means. Why would anyone play that now?”
“Because they like it,” I said.
“Yes, of course. Because they like it.”
“Did you see the man’s hair?” I turned back toward the Oktogon and the dangling men.
“Whose?” my grandmother asked me.
“The man with the green eyes.”
I knew she had looked with me, but just for a second. The man’s auburn hair was parted and brilliantined so that it shone even at this distance.
“Do you think he combed it for someone?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” my grandmother said. “His sweetheart, I suppose.” I thought she might cry, but instead she said, “Now, please keep moving, my dear. We’ll have cake. Let’s have cake, at Gerbeaud.”
“Yes, now. Let’s have a treat. You can order anything you want. I know you want poppy-seed strudel.”
She took me all the way to Vorosmarty Square. The cobblestones made me think of a great house lying on its side. From the top of the building opposite, two Russian soldiers, both sturdy women, unfurled a canvas sheet so big it covered a side of Kossuth’s department store from roof to sidewalk. It was a vast portrait.
“Look, it’s Papa Stalin,” I said. I knew him right away from the picture above the clock in our classroom. He had the same smile and mustache, a mustache that was three times as impressive as Hitler’s, which was little more than a black checkerboard square. I found myself smiling back at the giant face, like a circus face.
“Please,” my grandmother said, giving my arm a tug. “The great father forgot himself,” she said under her breath. “Forgot to leave. Come, Robert, please.” And she pulled even harder on my arm now.
I was as excited about poppy-seed strudel as I was about Kaiser Laszlo, Gerbeaud’s monkey in a golden cage. He squealed as soon as we walked in. I think he recognized me because I’d fed him some apple cake last time. If I were the kaiser, I’d recognize everyone who fed me cake. He was wearing a bellman’s blue cap and vest. He tilted his head in an appealing way and held out his little hairy hand.
At the table I felt warm, as if we’d come in out of a storm. The waiter placed our sweets and cocoas in front of us. My grandmother took out her compact and mother-of-pearl makeup case. I watched, dazzled, as like an artist she applied some lines and clouds, borders and dots. Once done, she fished out her monogrammed silver cigarette case, removed a cigarette from behind the garter, and tapped the end on the case before lighting it. I was just breaking off a corner of my strudel for the kaiser when the manager walked to the middle of the busy café, clapped her hands sharply, and called out to us, saying we all had to go. She was very sorry. The café was closing for the rest of the day, but we could take our cake with us. The waiters brought linen napkins in which to wrap up our things. For a moment I thought it was because they’d run out of cake, but the glass cases were full of colorful sweets. I noticed a colony of marzipan goblins and other figures. Our waiter brought me one of them, a marzipan monkey with a cap like the kaiser’s.
A woman in a long mink coat brushed by us, trailing the scent of mothballs. For the longest time, I had thought that this was the scent of mink until my grandmother explained. The woman paused by the door to glance back at us but then peered down at her feet. She wore black patent leather shoes with very high heels and sharpened toes. They were pointed at something. “Look,” the shoes seemed to be saying. “Right there on the floor. Have a gander.” Then, with their fine sense of direction, the shoes turned, aimed themselves toward the door, and took the woman out with them.
People were leaving quickly and abandoning their cake—most of them.
“What will happen to the kaiser?” I said. “They won’t hang Laszlo, will they?”
“No, of course not. Not a thing will happen to him,” my grandmother said. “He’ll be here for us next time.”
“Next time,” she said, as if she were saying “never.”
We hurried home to find my parents rushing around the apartment and making telephone calls. My mother flitted from one room to the next. She smiled when she saw that I was home. “Sorry you had to leave school, my lambkin,” she said, and then went about her business.
My brother, Attila, was already home. He was 13.7, and he had our mother’s blond hair, while I had black hair, like our father’s. Attila was also a head taller than I was, everyone kept pointing out. It made me want to plop an extra head on top of mine, a freaky one, possibly.
My brother was sitting on the sofa eating an apple. “We’re leaving altogether, my lambkin,” he said to me.
I sat down beside him. “Where are we going?”
He was chomping away but said, “West. We’re going to the Wild West. You’ll need your cowboy hat and spurs.”
My brother wasn’t saying any more. He acted as if he knew but wasn’t telling, so I said, “I saw the hanging men.”
His face fell open. “What do you mean?”
“From the lampposts.”
He turned his arctic blue gaze on me. “Which ones?”
I crossed my arms. “On Andrassy,” I said. “At the Oktogon.” I pictured the man with the green eyes and nicely combed hair, but I wanted to protect the secret of this man, so instead I said, “Some of the men had their tongues sticking out.”
Attila jumped to his feet. “That is not what happened. You did not see hanging men, and they do not stick out their tongues. I know that for a fact.”
I shrugged. “Ask Mamu.”
Attila ran off to get our grandmother, and I could hear him yelling out questions at her. When he came back to me, he had whitened. His blue eyes looked like marbles dropped in snow. I thought he might want to strangle me. He glared, slapped at the arm of the sofa. “Are they still there?” he asked.
“Are they still hanging there? Shit.”
He rushed out to the balcony and climbed onto the railing to peer out over the bronze head of Mor Jokai, the old Hungarian writer, whose statue sat at the top of our street, keeping watch over it. Attila turned toward me with his icy stare. Then he flew back past me to our bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
That night, as we got ready for bed, my brother looked inside his pajama bottoms—he did quite a study—then raised his arms, flexed, and faced the mirror, admiring the muscles and then the hairs sprouting from his armpits. “We are experiencing the balding of the world, my small brother.” He tugged on a couple of the hairs. “These tufts are the last bits of hair left to us. But notice the apes are having none of it. They probably know something we don’t.”
“What?” I asked.
“I told you: it’s something we don’t know.”
“How do you know it’s anything, then?” I said.
Attila sighed but then moved on, which was his way. He peered down again into his pajama pants. “I would have made sperm a brighter color,” he said, “if I had been the Lord God, Creator of the Universe.”
“What color is it now?”
“You don’t know?” he asked, smiling broadly. I shook my head. He said, “Do you want me to bring some forth for you to see?”
“No, I don’t.”
“It’s a drab pearly cream color. It doesn’t say how important it is, how exciting, how it makes babies, humans, soldiers, beauties, love, courage, heroism.” The image of the hanging men shot through me, this time the ones with their tongues out. Attila was still talking. “These are children waiting to be born, or bits of children—the Beck bits, in our case—they’re bits that carry messages, vital information about us, my golden hair, your black hair, my sparkling blue eyes, Mom’s smile, our grandmother’s niceness, our bravery—or at least mine.” He slapped himself on the chest. “The color says nothing, or it says it is nothing. Blood is red. It makes declarations. It says alarm; it says I am the living stream. But sperm does not. It is dull and poorly designed, or at least poorly decorated. ‘Give it something more,’ I would have said to the Lord. ‘Color isn’t everything. Give the little sperms horns, or feathers.’”
“Or full wings,” he continued. “Just fly through air. Right now, the slithery bastards swim upstream. Why not give them wings? Give them noisemakers, or little voices, so that all together they could sound like a mob storming the gates.”
Attila got into bed. I was still sitting on the edge of mine, waiting for more, I guess. I was staring at him, at the back of his golden head, his slender white neck. I was sure that even with a noose around his neck my brother would keep his tongue in his mouth, just to prove his point.
By the time I switched off the lights, he was asleep. He always fell asleep right away, even when our grandmother told us stories. Now I listened as she and our parents spoke in quiet but heated tones in the living room.
“We’ll go to Nebraska or Utah,” my father said. I didn’t know those places. Now he turned on his loudspeaker voice. “Yes, we’ll become Mormons. Lili, I want to become a Mormon, try on something new.” He was creaking back and forth over the floor, and then he stopped. “We’ll go to Canada. Why not Canada?” I knew my father’s cousin Adam lived in Canada.
“What are you talking about?” my mother asked. “And please keep your voice down.”
My grandmother said we should go to Paris first to visit her sister, Hermina. It would be a good place to start.
“We’ll visit Paris,” my father said, too loudly. “We’re not staying in Paris.”
“Why don’t we wait and see?” my mother asked.
“Because we’ve had enough of Europe,” he said. “Have you not had enough of the old bitch?” He was blasting out his thoughts now. “The whole place should be paved over and turned into a parking lot.”
“Simon, please,” Mamu whispered. “This has been our home. It has always been our home. You would not have said this if your father were still around.”
“He’s not around. He is resting at last.”
“Do you consider that a good thing?” his mother asked.
“It works for me.”
“Simon,” my mother said. “Why do you always have to go too far?”
“Here’s what I know,” my grandmother said, huffing. I imagined her getting to her feet. “I know that nobody knows anything. And some of us seem to know nothing with greater certainty than others.”
No one answered. There was some shuffling of feet and some tinkling of glasses, but they went quiet soon after.
In the darkness, the bar of light that started at the foot of our door floated up like a wand into the ceiling. When the living room lights finally went out, I waded through the black milk of the night. I saw the green eyes of the hanging man up ahead in some forest, like the eyes of a woodland creature. I heard music—drumming—from the window and thought of Kaiser Laszlo, deprived all afternoon of his usual morsels. But it wasn’t drumming. It was pounding. Our bedroom windows rattled in their casements and lit up as bombs fell in the distance, the sound muffled, as if I were listening through my pillow. I counted the seconds between the flashes and the sounds, the way Attila and I did with thunder and lightning, to see how far away it was. Then the hanging man’s eyes drifted up again, greening over my sleep.
As Attila and I got dressed the next morning, it felt strange not to be going to school—like a holiday, but not a festive one. My father’s cousin Andras and his wife, Judit, were over, and the whispering continued until Attila and I joined them. They were sitting in the kitchen having tea and walnut cake. Judit was as pregnant as could be and panted as she shifted this way and that, too small and slight to have all that baby stuffed inside her. She had a glow about her in the early morning lamplight and a constellation of copper freckles, which moved with her big smile.
She gave me a hug and kiss. Up close, she smelled of the sweet, powdery scent of a baby. “I hope I have a child as beautiful and smart as you boys,” she said.
“You should be so lucky,” Attila said, as he reached for a cup and panted extra hard, the way Judit was doing.
Judit wanted me to sit in her lap, but I said I was too big.
“You’re not,” she said.
“He is, my sweetie,” my mother said, smiling.
But Judit had already pulled me down onto her lap and thrown her arms around me. Everyone was smiling then as things seemed to swirl around us.
“I just want a good child,” Judit said. “A kind one.”
“Oh, is that all?” my brother said. He had poured himself some espresso and was adding ten spoons of sugar.
“Yes,” was the answer. Judit had a determined look in her eyes.
“Mamu and I saw people hanging our soldiers,” I told her. “Russians.”
Judit loosened her grip on me. “Oh, my dear Lord,” she said. “Oh, dear dear Lord. My poor young Robert.” She held my face by the temples, looked me in the eyes, then held my whole head too tightly.
There was a pounding at the door, quite a commanding one, and we all turned in that direction, as if to understand what it meant. We followed my father into the vestibule and huddled behind him, except for my brother, who stood by his side. It was Attila who opened the door. A man, a soldier the size of a tree, stood outside. He had such an overgrowth of beard that he could have supplied a whole room of teenagers with all the tufts they needed. He barked something at us in Russian.
The red star gleamed from his furry officer’s cap. He barked something again, and Judit squeaked and held her stomach.
The tree man paused, but then he entered the vestibule, parted us, and stepped up to Judit. He stared at her, gazed down at her belly, then bent down to listen there. No one knew what to do. He pointed a long finger at her stomach. Andras was ready to lunge at the Russian, and so was my brother behind him. Judit whimpered.
The man laughed as he straightened all the way up again. His mouth was like a jewel box, full of gold and glitter. He pushed past us and marched straight to our clock on the sideboard in the front room as if he knew right where it was. We followed him, and he waited for us to gather. He pointed to the clock, circled his long brown finger a number of times past the 12, and motioned that we were all to leave. Then, to our relief, he marched out again and slammed the door.
“We have until three o’clock,” our father said to us. “And then we have to be gone.”
“For how long?” I asked him.
“We don’t know,” my grandmother said gently.
“For about two centuries,” Attila said, “before we check back in with them.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“They want us to get out,” Andras said. “Not out of the country.” We weren’t supposed to leave the country, weren’t allowed to, actually. We were just supposed to find lodgings elsewhere.
“But we’re not doing that,” Attila said.
“Be quiet,” our father said.
“We can’t leave now,” Judit said in a whisper. I could hardly hear her.
“We have to,” her husband said. “Now is our only chance.” The Hungarian rebels were rising up, he explained. There were breaks in the border. It would be the only time.
“But Andras,” our grandmother said, putting her arm around Judit.
My brother looked straight at me. “We’re leaving,” he insisted. “Forever. I told you—we’re going west.”
“Why can’t we just get the Russians to like us instead?” I asked.
Attila shook his head. “Lambkin, you’re not too bright.”
But my remark made Judit tear up. She embraced me and kissed me on the head before leaving with Andras.
The Russian was back within an hour, and he had brought other soldiers with him, two women and one man. But the original one with the beard was obviously overseeing the proceedings. They worked their way through our home more like movers than invaders. They acted as if we weren’t there. From the china cabinet, they carefully pulled out Herend porcelain cups, saucers and platters, and a silver sugar box and teapot, wrapping them in cloth before placing them in large canvas sacks. Attila and I watched from the sofa.
They took down the paintings one at a time, leaving rectangular blond ghosts on the gold wallpaper. The largest of these was called Christmas 1903. It depicted two women dressed in dark coats and fur hats, one bent over a walnut secretary desk, writing a letter, the other looking out and down at us. Between them stood a potted Christmas tree on a table, festooned with bright ribbons and baubles and a star at the top. I always wondered why such a cheerful tree did not manage to spread its joy to the dark women in the parlor, who had most likely decorated it. Now the women were gone, together with their tree.
One solitary picture still hung on the wall among the ghostly rectangles. It was a drawing done by my brother of a Spitfire fighter plane tearing through the skies, spitting impressive bursts of fire. In the corner of the picture was the sun, and it too fired off spikes instead of rays of light. It was a sketch Attila had done in school, and our mother had had it framed in gold and hung over the gilded clock, in the shape of a double-headed eagle on the sideboard, which stood guard over the room. The fierce-looking bird was the emblem of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
I had done a picture I knew my mother would like too, a watercolor of a weeping willow, but it was still at school. My teacher, Mrs. Molnar, had hung it up where the photographs of Stalin and Khrushchev hung, but on the opposite side of the classroom’s wall clock. My tree was surrounded by other trees that also wanted to weep. I had given them their own tears in many colors flying off the leaves. My classmate David thought the other trees might have been sweating after a run, but I explained my intent. A year before, I had done another picture, in crayon, of sunflowers. It wasn’t a field of sunflowers, exactly, but sunflower after sunflower, quite a few of them. My brother seemed to admire the picture. He said my flowers looked like the handiwork of God as a child, trying out designs for the sun. That wasn’t my intent either. I didn’t know where that picture got to, exactly.
One of the Russian women carrying a canvas bag looked at the Spitfire twice as she passed by us. We watched her closely. She removed her snug army cap to reveal straw-colored hair tied back tightly, giving her head the look of an onion. She paused by the drawing but walked on. The eagle watched with its four sharp eyes. On her third trip by, she picked up the eagle clock with a strong arm and wrapped it up like a mummy before bending over to make room for it in her heavy sack.
Attila studied the operation, kept glancing up at his own drawing in its precious frame, waited for her to leave our home with the sacks, and then tore off madly to our room.
I tiptoed to the dining room to see if the Russians had taken our bowl of rose cream chocolates. I cared less about the red crystal bowl than about the chocolates themselves. They were still there. I wondered if it would be all right to sit at the table and steal one. I took a chance. I peeled off the red foil wrapper and put the chocolate into my mouth whole, let its creamy sweet heart enjoy its new home. I didn’t want to chew, to take a single bite. I laid my cheek against the cool surface of the dining-room table. My grandmother had bought this table for my parents for their “wood” anniversary, she told me. She said it was made of walnut by Sebastyan Balaban, the famous furniture maker. He had told her it would last a thousand years. We had had it for eleven, just 1.1 percent of its life span, meaning some nice Russian family could enjoy meals and chocolates off it for 989 more years. I took another chocolate to eat in my room and one for my brother.
But I had a second table to visit first. It was the round-topped pedestal table in the front room. It was the one I always hid under when I was very young. Made of heavy black maple and standing on beastly wooden lions’ paws, it sat between two dainty ladies’ lamps in all its manly glory. I ducked underneath. I wanted to sit in its darkness for what might be the last time. When I was younger, I thought that this unlucky lion had grown a tabletop instead of a head, but when my brother taught me the facts of life, I realized that a lion and a table had lain down together to make this child. I hoped it was the table that was the mother. I ran my fingers through the carved fur and the hard claws and said my good-byes.
Something fell in the kitchen, but not a dish, because it didn’t shatter. I jumped out and ran back to our room. My brother was holding his june bug collection up to the light of the window, but then he shelved it again. The collection had won him a science prize a couple of years back.
After that, things moved quickly. Our father told us we could each take what we could carry, no more. I snuck out again to the front room, peered in, making sure there was not a single Russian in the room. Then I ran to the sideboard, no longer watched over by the two-headed eagle, and removed a golden cup and saucer. They looked as if they might have come from an old palace, but they were small, like children’s dishes. My parents drank espresso out of them when we had company. I hid them in my shirt and slunk away toward the bedroom. I dashed out again, one last time, snatched Attila’s Spitfire drawing off the wall, opened my shirt, slipped it past the buttons, and slid it all the way to the back above my belt before buttoning up my shirt again.
I ran into the Russian soldier in the hall and thought I’d been caught. My face burned. Instead of stripping me of my booty, he handed me a Russian nesting doll—matryoshka, he called it—and I bowed, feeling the corners of the picture frame claw my skin, before retreating to my room. I slipped the picture under my bed. The brightly painted matryoshka doll came apart, and a series of smaller dolls lived inside, all the way down to a puny one. She was a colorful wooden bean, little more.
As I admired them, Attila said that I was a girl. I countered with my cowboy hat, spurs, cap gun, and holster, all of which I placed in my satchel with the reassembled matryoshka
"Devastating yet unnervingly funny....it's not every writer who can render a scene like this with such verisimilitude so many years after the fact....What is clear--and unquestionably lucky for us--is that Kertes's memories survived his own family's flight to Canada and have found expression in this inspired and deeply affecting novel. 'I'm not asking for a story for the ages,' Robert tells his Aunt Hermina. 'I'm asking what happened to you.' Kertes has given us both."
—Julie Orringer, New York Times Book Review
"The Afterlife of Stars is Joseph Kertes's masterpiece. Robert Beck, the young narrator, is absolutely captivating (and very funny!) as he takes us along on his terrifying journey."
—Miriam Toews, two-time Giller Prize finalist for All My Puny Sorrows and A Complicated Kindness
"The Afterlife of Stars moved me more than any other novel I've read in recent memory. It hypnotizes. It delights. It shines on every page with a quiet, implacable, blanketing beauty-like a snowfall. Beyond all else, The Afterlife of Stars reaches into your chest and takes hold of your heart and does not let go, not even after the last page is turned. The Afterlife of Stars keeps shining on. What an exquisite novel."—Tim O'Brien, National Book Award-winning author of The Things They Carried
"The Afterlife of Stars is tender in its evocation of fierceness and wrenching in its rendering of two brothers' hunger to penetrate both the wonders and the awful secrets of a world that always seems just out of reach. It's memorably sad and surprisingly funny on the elusiveness of home and the intensity of family bonds."
—Jim Shepard, author of The Book of Aron
"We meet the Beck brothers at the very moment history lays its claim on them. Their bond is sure to become one of literature's great and sustaining relationships. Joseph Kertes writes with tremendous love for the idiosyncratic and passionate loyalties of family. With masterly concision, he expresses the trauma of an era. This is a book of remarkable scope and depth; unforgettable and deeply moving."—Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces
"The Afterlife of Stars blazes with every single good thing that a work of fiction ever does or could do. It is brilliant. Radiant."—Richard Bausch, PEN/Malamud Award-winning author of Peace
"Agony, humor, and a boy's bewilderment and wonder coalesce in this glittering novel. Joseph Kertes evokes a vanishing culture with poignancy and love. His boy-narrator is a marvelous creation."
—D. M. Thomas, Man Booker Prize finalist for The White Hotel
"The Afterlife of Stars is a great adventure story, at once fantastical and true. And the inimitable Beck brothers allow us to see past the horrors of the world with a childlike precocity."—David Bezmozgis, Two-time Giller Prize finalist for The Betrayers and The Free World
"Exquisitely moving . . . Kertes is a natural storyteller who creates vivid characters that resonate on the page."—Elaine Margolin, Jerusalem Post
"A beautifully written story of brotherly love, family, and the intersection of history in the 20th century."
—Andrea Kempf, Library Journal (Starred Review)
"Kertes, who himself escaped Hungary after the 1956 revolution, delivers a fastpaced and taut narrative that captures how inscrutable the world's cruelties can be to the children who witness them. Stirring and haunting, The Afterlife of Stars memorably shows how the bonds of brotherhood stay strong in a crisis."
—Bridget Thoreson, Booklist (Starred Review)
"[A] fervent novel. Kertes (Gratitude, 2009), winner of the National Jewish Book Award, begins his newest work in his own native Budapest.... [protagonists] Robert and Attila are a winning pair of guides....Kertes' voice is a lyrical one, and his work is frequently moving."
"Slender yet consequential...Part of what makes the book so compelling is its sympathetic portrayal of political refugees at a time when they are frequently misunderstood at best, and demonized at worst....But the beating heart of this book is the relationship between [protagonists] Robert and Attila, a remarkable pair of brothers whose bond goes beyond affection, beyond shared history, beyond blood. They are two young men who, once met, you'll never forget."
—Thane Tierney, Bookpage
- On Sale
- Jan 1, 2030
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Back Bay Books