This blog is about my writing and my reading: My published books and a novel in progress; a course I am teaching on drama and theater, and the adventures and challenges of sharing literature with students.
Some topics that interest me: parallel worlds; life after death; the human condition; concepts of heaven; Hungary; the human toll of the Cold War; Shakespeare's works; literature and life.
Refugee from Paradise by Dalma Takács is available from
$3.99; Paperback, $16.80
This story is about leaving
behind our pastand surviving the
present. About learning to treasure the pains and the joys that make us who we
are.Penny Kiss is a Hungarian refugee
girl who was forced to leave her home and friends in Hungary after the Communist
takeover and start a new life in England in 1948.
They Have Spies Everywhere
September 6th, 1948
I’ve received a letter from Aunt
Felicia. “You are a lucky girl to be going to school in London,” she writes. I
know she is right, even though I am lying in bed at home with the chickenpox on
the first day of school, and I am worrying about missing two weeks of school
work with my English so poor. At least I can practice by writing in my journal.
I know Aunt Felicia is right, even
though Uncle Ed hasn’t found a job yet, and we have to live on what Mami earns
by making hand-embroidered blouses for Mrs. Pavel.
I know I’m lucky, even though food
in England is scarce and rationed. Most weeks our ration books allow us to buy
only a quarter pound of butter, half a pound of bacon, and one or two eggs per
person. We buy meat not by the pound, but by the “book.”
I must remember next time to use the right word in the butcher’s shop.
Even now, as I sit here scratching, the memory of my humiliation stings. I
walked up to the counter and said in what I thought was perfect English, “Please
give me some flesh for one ration book.” The butcher said, “Blimy!”, the
customers laughed, and I fled the shop, flaming red in the face. In Hungarian
meat is flesh and flesh is meat. The same word serves for both.
I know I’m lucky because we don’t have
to pay for medicine or doctor visits, because school and school supplies are
all free, because we have a roof over our heads and no Russian soldiers in the
I know I’m lucky, but I don’t feel lucky at all.
I spend the day trying to forget the
itch and wondering what my face will look like when the blisters are gone. I
wasn’t much of a beauty to begin with, and I doubt that craters on my cheeks
will improve my appearance. I take aspirin for the fever, and I lie awake most
of the night; at fifteen, chickenpox is no longer a child’s disease. I try to
pass the time by writing letters home—home to Hungary, the country I’ve had to
leave and will never see again. I have written to Daddy telling him about all
the sights of London: the mummies in the British Museum, the Rembrandts in the
National Gallery, the Crown Jewels in the Tower. Before I seal the letter, I
must show it to Mami and Uncle Ed. They have to make sure there is nothing
“political” in it that could hurt Daddy at home. The Communist government is
looking to arrest anyone who criticizes the system.
Daddy is not very careful with his
letters to me. He writes about things he loves—Hungarian literature, history,
folk music and art. But he also includes remarks about the government in what
we call “flower language,” using innocent words to fool the censor. Of course,
by now I’m sure the censor knows perfectly well that “illness” and “hospital”
are flower language for arrest and imprisonment, but Daddy doesn’t care. “Our
neighbor Peter was suddenly taken ill last night,” he writes. “He will spend
the next ten years in the hospital. Doctors are quite ruthless these days."
Do you hear an echo in your own experience?
Were you ever young in a strange land? Do you have memories that sting and