November 11, 2016

A child's life in war

Castles Burning
by Magda Denes

Denes looks back at her life during the Second World War when she and her family hid from the Nazis in the city of Budapest, Hungary. Her father had to flee the country in 1939, escaping to New York City. He was to send for them, but never did. Magda, her older brother Ivan, their mother, grandparents, aunt, and cousin were forced to live in increasingly perilous circumstances. They spent much time hiding in attics, safe houses, and basements. Often, Magda was forced to shelter apart from her family. This fueled feelings of anger, fear, and abandonment, which, along with her usual stubbornness and cynicism, made her a formidable child to deal with. 

Oftentimes, the reader may find Magda intensely dislikeable; the rest of the family don’t fare much better as they argue with and berate each other. Their faults are made understandable when considering the danger and uncertainty that they endured. Comfort and empathy can be hard to come by when faced with unimaginable stresses. Denes does describe brief moments of gaiety, which offers hope, but they’re tempered with despair and pessimism when people are lost or go missing. Even after liberation, the family endures poverty in Germany and France before emigrating to Cuba.

A powerful, difficult, and demanding read, the book illuminates the immense toll on those living in war-torn countries and the stigma of displaced persons everywhere.

For adult and teen readers aged 15 and up.

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