Monday, April 11, 2016

The triumph of love: Péter Gárdos' Fever at Dawn

Gárdos’ concise first novel tells an incredibly moving and hopeful love story. The plot dramatizes the unusual real-life circumstances that led the author’s parents to find one another.

Miklós Gárdos and Lili Reich, both Hungarian concentration-camp survivors, are sent to different rehabilitation hospitals in Sweden following their rescue after WWII. Although Miklós is seriously ill with tuberculosis, and his doctor expects he won’t survive, he refuses to believe this diagnosis, instead choosing to grasp a chance at happiness.

He pens identical letters to the young Hungarian women from his home region who are recuperating in Sweden—all 117 of them, intending to marry one.  His letters’ flirtatious tone is delightful, and Miklós receives many replies, but his lively and humorous correspondence with Lili is clearly special.

Both have supportive friends, but some complications ensue.  The author also sensitively explores Lili’s religious dilemma, as she feels that her Jewish faith let her down. This is a beautiful tale about two young people joyfully writing a future together when their past is too painful for words.

Péter Gárdos' Fever at Dawn, translated from Hungarian by Elizabeth Szász, is published tomorrow by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ($23, hardcover, 240pp).  This review first appeared in Booklist's March 15th issue.

Read more about the background to this novel in an article from Reuters. "I don’t think this is a Holocaust novel, it’s a story of love," Gárdos says in the interview. "I needed to tell the story of their defiant desire to live, that there’s life after death and how important love was."

A film based on Fever at Dawn, with Gárdos (a renowned film director) directing and co-writing the screenplay, was released last December in Hungary. See the trailer below.

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