A Guest in My Own Coun­try: A Hun­gar­i­an Life

George Kon­rad; Jim Tuck­er, trans.; Michael Hen­ry Heim, ed.
  • Review
By – December 9, 2011

A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Hun­gar­i­an Jews have had a major impact on post-war sci­en­tif­ic, eco­nom­ic, and intel­lec­tu­al life. One need only think of George Soros, Andy Grove, and George Klein to get a sense of the pre-war cul­ture that pro­duced such stel­lar intel­lects. The major­i­ty of these child and ado­les­cent Holo­caust sur­vivors fled Hun­gary after the war. 

The author of this mem­oir, the not­ed nov­el­ist and essay­ist George Kon­rad (1933-) stayed behind. Hav­ing sur­vived the Nazi onslaught in Budapest, Kon­rad learned that all of his Jew­ish class­mates from his home­town had been killed in the gas chambers. 

His mem­oir chron­i­cles the Holo­caust years and then sub­se­quent life under Com­mu­nist rule. Kon­rad par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Hun­gar­i­an Upris­ing of 1956, became a teacher, social work­er, and soci­ol­o­gist pri­or to his career as a fic­tion writer and essayist. 

This work will be of great val­ue to spe­cial­ists in post-war Hun­gar­i­an sociopo­lit­i­cal life and those with a per­son­al inter­est in this peri­od. For the gen­er­al read­er, despite Konrad’s poet­ic and inti­mate style, the work will be dif­fi­cult to stay with. The details of life in the col­or­less and stul­ti­fy­ing world of Com­mu­nist con­trolled Hun­gary are monot­o­nous and serve to remind the read­er of the hell­ish con­di­tions that affect­ed mil­lions liv­ing behind the Iron Cur­tain. Kon­rad became a per­se­cut­ed dis­si­dent forced to smug­gle copies of his works to the West for pub­li­ca­tion. His moral courage in refus­ing to aban­don his home­land can­not be denied but this read­er was left to won­der whether his tenac­i­ty was in any way self-defeat­ing. He had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to leave Hun­gary but chose instead what he calls inter­nal emi­gra­tion.” The mem­oir affords the read­er a num­ber of self-reflec­tive pas­sages deal­ing with such themes as reli­gion, aging, par­ent­hood, mar­riage, and the life of a writer. Konrad’s arrest­ing obser­va­tions are the book’s sin­gu­lar strength.

Steven A. Luel, Ph.D., is asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of edu­ca­tion and psy­chol­o­gy at Touro Col­lege, New York. He is a devel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist and psy­cho­an­a­lyst in pri­vate prac­tice. He is co-edi­tor (with Paul Mar­cus) of Psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic Reflec­tions on the Holo­caust: Select­ed Essays.

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