Lily’s Daughter is a well written, deeply engaging memoir of, as she was known then, Zsuzsa Osvath’s childhood in Hungary. The period is 1940 to 1957, a period overshadowed by two European disasters, and one failed revolution. The first disaster was WWII and the second Stalin. The revolution was the crushing of an all too brief Hungarian enlightenment by Soviet tanks.
The domestic detail draws the reader in deep and holds attention with a simply drawn picture of survival in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The writing is almost too matter of fact at times, avoiding excess emotion, exaggeration, or any sense of self-pity. The facts, the observations of a family, school and social life during that period of Hungary’s history, don’t need embellishment. The drama is automatically there, dancing between the words. I found myself saying, shouldn’t you be crying longer, or describing your hunger, or be really shouting at the system. But actually, we know all that is happening, behind the beautifully crafted pictures. We can feel the atmosphere without having to have every emotion brutally carved out for us.
The sense of continuing and unpredictable turmoil, the variable insecurity of that period of Hungarian history comes through constantly, giving poignancy to even the simplest observations of childhood eyes. This story is a well-balanced mixture of first hand memory and later learned detail weaved together into a valuable social history. A full spectrum of characters from so many areas of society move through the story. We see everyone from the fallen aristocrats of Austro-Hungarian Empire, to the factory worker of the agricultural collectives, from the Communist Party officials, to those who stood before the Russian tanks, from “camps” for party members’ children, to childhood stars of the stage. In short, this is a wonderful tapestry of real lives.
Of course we can’t really feel what it was like to live childhood in such dramatic times, however, we are taken very, very close. I feel truly gratified that I discovered this book. Most of the heavily explored characters are female, and much of the content is domestic. That certainly did not put me off for a moment. There is plenty here for any intelligent mind to be fascinated and stirred by. We were all children of mixed fortunes, just a few short days ago.