This biographical novel has a beautiful nostalgic quality, the sort of feeling you get when watching classic noir films, browsing vintage postcards or old photo albums of happy families that you know are doomed.
Ballerina Margit Wolf is just seventeen when she leaves Hungary for a short-lived career on the Italian stage. She eventually marries her “maestro”, composer Pasquale Frustaci. In 1938 Margit yearns to see her Jewish family again and travels home to Budapest with her son, Cesare. Shortly afterwards, her pining husband Pasquale gains international success with his song “Tu Solamente Tu” (“You, Fascinating You”).
Forcibly separated from Cesare and trapped behind closed borders, Margit suffers greatly, first at the hands of the Nazis, later the Russians. For twenty years she struggles to find a way to be reunited with Pasquale in Italy.
The author’s style is faultless and understated. You aren’t inflicted with clever historical research or lectures about the Holocaust or communism; there is no overt sentimentality. The truth is told in a few words, a look, a gesture. We bear witness to the tragedies of these real people with all their flaws and contradictions, but also to their resilience and hope. There are surprise cameos too from celebrities of the era: Vittorio de Sica, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Greta Garbo.
Why this excellent work wasn’t picked up by a major publisher is a mystery. (Despite the cliché about not judging covers, a more professional design might help to attract the wide audience it deserves.)
For anyone unfamiliar with the aftermath of World War II in Europe or simply in search of a human story well told, this is most highly recommended.