The Storyteller: Memory, Secrets, Magic and Lies
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Born in 1889, Anna Porter's grandfather, Vili Rácz, was a patriot and an Olympic athlete, a magician and a lawyer, a publisher and a prisoner, a philanderer and a devoted family man. On long walks through the once-grand European capital of Budapest, in confidences whispered in splendid fin-de-siècle coffeehouses, Vili shared his stories of heroes and hardships, war and revolution. Vili's stories are the foundation of this vivid memoir, which follows Anna and her family from the tumultuous years of the Second World War to the Hungarian Revolution and the family's exile to New Zealand. Through young Anna's eyes, we accompany her to prison with her mother, see her beloved Vili unjustly sentenced to hard labour, and witness unspeakable human loss in the streets of Budapest during the failed uprising against the Communists. As Anna grows up in the beautiful but beleaguered city, her grandfather's stories of strife and survival give her a personal sense of history and of values, in a country the world seems to have forgotten.
it. Never fitted in here, she didn’t.” “Who?” my mother asked. “Petronella Rácz. Small, like you, she was. Tiny. Built that thing with turrets and towers. Her son added a courtyard where the carriages circled, the lawn with bushes in the shapes of bears and wild boar, the cellar where they laid down the wine, an icehouse bigger than the churchyard and people coming for parties all spring and summer. Everyone still talks about that place. “My great-grandfather was overseer of the vineyard. We
grew red Soproni grapes, sweeter than the Egri. Those fields there”—he pointed east of the cemetery—“were vines as far as the eye can see.” “What happened to it?” The man shrugged. “What happened to everything around here. The commune tore out the vines. Bourgeois stuff, wine. They planted hybrid corn. The house is barracks for the army.” “Which army?” “Whichever army happens by,” he said. “In ’41 it was the Hungarians and the Germans. In ’45 the Russians. Right now it’s the Serbs. Don’t you
had been. He wanted to be a Black Knight, one of Mátyás’s own army of soldiers. When he said goodbye to Klara, she asked him to take young Lightning as a gift for the king. Had he been a little younger, he might have refused. After all, it was his horse—he had reared it, cared for it, brushed its coat every day. They made the long journey from Erdély to Visegrad, at the bend of the Danube, on the highest peak of the mountain where the king had decided to build a new castle. It was a bleak
won’t be back in time for school,” I said. I was sad I wouldn’t be starting with Alice. “And I won’t go to school in Vienna. Not with all the Habsburgs. Speaking German.” She walked around the tree slowly, trying to place her feet as lightly as she could, humming the Rákóczi March, her hands held to either side and slightly away from her body for balance. She had put a small, square, black scarf over her head; its two corners barely reached under her chin. Her hair was clinging to her neck, wet
carrying around the baby. Magda had long, brown hair and blue eyes, a round face and wrinkles on her neck. She said that was because she had once been a big woman, but she had shrunk in jail. She didn’t like the food. All that was left of her former self were her strong arms—her biceps bulged just like Vili’s when she flexed them to show me. Most days the guard who had held my hand would come and take me out for a walk. Sometimes he gave me a sugar cube or an apple. He said he had a little girl