One Must Also Be Hungarian

Adam Biro; Cather­ine Tihanyi, trans.
  • Review
By – March 23, 2012

Adam Biro’s mem­oir is dif­fer­ent from most post-World War II East­ern Europe Jew­ish mem­oirs. The Holo­caust is not the divid­ing line of the fam­i­ly his­to­ry. Rather Biro extends his nar­ra­tive into his family’s 200-year Hun­gar­i­an past, when being a Hun­gar­i­an was often more mean­ing­ful than being a Jew. Biro was born in Hun­gary in 1941, moved to France in 1956, and wrote this book after his father’s death in Budapest in the 2000’s. Being the last mem­ber of the Hun­gar­i­an branch, he writes it as a fam­i­ly memorial. 

The mod­el for the mem­oir was his father’s thir­ty-two page auto­bi­og­ra­phy, which his father wrote upon retir­ing as a physi­cian, not men­tion­ing any of his fam­i­ly rela­tions, his­tor­i­cal events, feel­ings, or opin­ions. Biro lat­er found some lit­er­ary writ­ings in which his father express­es his dis­ap­point­ments in his life and cul­ture and his long­ing for adven­ture and love. 

Biro focus­es on his Hun­gar­i­an fam­i­ly, as for him, Hun­gary is that fam­i­ly. His sto­ry draws most­ly upon fam­i­ly sto­ries, his own frag­ment­ed mem­oirs, and his father’s files. The research into the his­tor­i­cal con­text of his fam­i­ly is min­i­mal and he men­tions his wife and daugh­ters in France spar­ing­ly, refer­ring to them not by name but by their first ini­tials. His own com­ments, inter­pre­ta­tions, and intro­jec­tions are added in a lighter print. 

In spite of the detach­ment that ren­ders the nar­ra­tive some­what flat and cold, the last two chap­ters about his par­ents are rich­er in details and emo­tion. Biro pon­ders some issues of their rela­tion­ship and the images come to life and gain com­plex­i­ty through the detailed descrip­tions and expres­sion of feel­ings. One Must Also be Hun­garian is a sto­ry of estrange­ments, lone­li­ness, and con­ver­sion, loss of faith, coun­try, lan­guage, and iden­ti­ty. Fam­i­ly photographs.

Bat­she­va Ben-Amos has two Ph.D.s, one in soci­ol­o­gy from the U. of Penn­syl­va­nia, the oth­er in clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gy from Hah­ne­mann University/​Hospital. In 2007, she received a fel­low­ship for The Sum­mer Insti­tute on the Holo­caust and Jew­ish Civ­i­liza­tion at North­west­ern University.

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