In my lying position, I unwittingly smelt the Hungarian soil. It was ground into my fingernails and dusted the soles of my shoes. And it was Hungarian sun that had browned my skin and lightened the tips of my hair. I would be carrying the place back with me, unawares. I knew I would count the days until I returned.
Beth received a parcel from Hungary. It brings with it news of her estranged mothers death and a scrapbook, entitled The Book of Summers full of memories of her childhood summers spent with her mother in Hungary all those years ago. As she turns the pages, she reminisces and tells the story of how she went from Erzsébet to Beth.
From line to line, it is beautifully written, creating the perfect picture of summers in Hungary. I did however find it slow to get into. The combination of descriptive prose and first person narrative doesn’t really give the reader a chance to get to know the character of Beth all that easily. I also find that first person is more of a train of thought to me, and Beth’s state of mind didn’t gel with the person who would think in a poetic way. She is holding a grudge, comes across as mean to her father and by the end of the book, I felt that she never really grew up.
For the most part, the story concentrates on Beth’s childhood which was easy to become absorbed in. There’s not a lot going on but it is an ideal book to while away some summer hours reading outdoors.
It is a rather romantic view of Hungary, told through the memories of childhood summers. There are hints at its troubled past, Marika returns after the Berlin Wall has come down, but otherwise it is looked at through rose-tinted glasses. It doesn’t really offer any insights into the country if that is what you’re looking for.
The Book of Summers is published by Headline Review and is currently available in ebook or a very pretty hardback edition. The paperback will be available in the UK on 24th May 2012. Thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.