Fever At Dawn by Peter Gardos, Translated by Elizabeth Szasz
An epic love story about a couple who got together writing letters while recovering from being liberated from concentration/enforced labour camps during WW2. I’ve read several first novels this year and apart from one other the rest have been a bitter disappointment. Fever At Dawn is a hit, a story to be savoured and a reminder there is a human story behind every refugee.
The art of translation is a challenging one. Do translators get as much credit as they deserve for bringing other worlds to life? Elizabeth Szasz pulls it off with her translation of Peter Gardos’ tribute to his parents early relationship. What a joy to read. Ultimately, it’s a love story but more importantly it tells the true story of how his Father, Miklos was given six months to live and defied all odds to recover. Instead, he was given the all clear six months later and went on to live for several decades. Yehhhhhhh.
Miklos is part-fantasist, part-survivor using all his skills and enthusiasm to woo Gardos’ mother through a series of letters while they both recover in a Swedish therapeutic unit miles apart after the war has ended. Initially he simultaneously wrote to several woman from his Hungarian birth village in the hope that one would be the perfect partner for him. According to Gardos, he whittled it down quickly to his mother, Lili.
He was clearly a bit of a character and prepared to go to exhaustive lengths to engage his mother. The story behind their courtship in Fever at Dawn would seem unbelievable if it weren’t true. A classic case of truth being stranger than fiction.
This is an extraordinary story.The post-script to his father’s ideals and his wavering career post-war when he returned to Hungary were fascinating footnotes. How many survivors ended up with similarly disenchanted views and being ostracised again by their mother country?
The book looks compassionately at what it must have been like for survivors from the camps post-war, their guilt and the radical adjustments they had to make.
A thought-provoking read, I didn’t want it to end.
Fever at Dawn was published in hardback in early April 2016 by Doubleday – Transworld Publishers. It is available online and all leading bookshops. The film was released late 2015.
Disclaimer: I was sent a proof copy for review. All opinions are mine.