CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 11 . . . .January 19, 2007
Refugee Child: My Memories of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
Bobbie Kalman. Illustrated by Barbara Bedell.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2006.
223 pp., cloth, $29.95.
Kalman, Bobbie, 1947- -Childhood and youth-Juvenile literature.
Hungary-History-Revolution, 1956-Juvenile literature.
Refugee children-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Hungary-History-Revolution, 1956-Personal narratives-Juvenile literature.
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Gail Hamilton.
Many people, including my grandfather, received news about the rest of the world through Radio Free Europe. But listening to this station was against the law in Hungary because the news couldn't be censored, or controlled by the Communists. The government didn't want Hungarians to know what was happening in other parts of the world, especially in the West. The West included the non-Communist countries of Europe and north and South America. When people started thinking about the West, they also thought about freedom- and freedom was not what the Soviet Union had in mind for Hungarians. Grandpapa didn't want us to know that he was listening to Radio Free Europe, so we wouldn't have to lie if someone asked us.
To coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution on October 23rd, 2006, children's author Bobbie Kalman has written a book about her personal experiences during that time. Writing from a child's perspective, Kalman, who was only nine-years-old when the revolution broke out, first provides some background information about her family, the town that she lived in, life in Hungary under Communist rule, and the pronunciation of Hungarian words. Following the somewhat lengthy, but perhaps necessary, introduction, her story begins. Each chapter starts with a quote that highlights an important aspect of the chapter and forewarns the reader of what is to come.
Kalman describes her daily life - living in a large apartment with no appliances, going to school and spending time with her grandparents - and how it was changed because of Soviet influence, as well as the events leading up to the revolution. Given her age at the time, it is understandable that her family kept a lot of information from her, such as her father's helping foreigners and freedom fighters to leave Hungary. In a poignant moment, she tells of savouring her last ride in her grandfather's wagon, her last visit with the animals in her grandparents' yard, and trying to memorize the furniture, clothes and toys her family had to leave behind when they defected to Austria. Despite the fear and sadness, there are also humourous moments, such as Kalman's description of playing a card game with two Soviet guards after her family was apprehended while trying to leave the country by car. Kalman, known to her family as a card player who cheated by changing the rules of the game as she went along, thoroughly confused the young guards until they caught on to her shenanigans. She speaks of her family's second escape attempt. Like many other refugees, her family defected to Austria by walking long distances in the dark of night. Fond memories of her time in Vienna seem almost magical compared to her life in Hungary - the wonderful Huber family with whom she lived, the beauty of Vienna's architecture and the Christmas decorations, and the excitement and colours of the market and the streets lined with shops. Finally, Kalman and her family crossed the Atlantic, eventually settling in Toronto.
The remainder of the book is devoted to her new life in Canada and some of the difficulties she faced as an immigrant. She describes her school and new friends, her post-secondary education, her teaching and writing careers, and the founding of her publishing company with her husband, Peter Crabtree. There is also a section about the Hungarian Revolution and a bibliography and list of web sites for further information about it.
Part memoir, part history, this moving book has many strengths. Kalman's decision to write her story from the perspective of a child works extremely well. Her choice of vocabulary and descriptions of the events capture the emotions of the time, effectively drawing the reader in. There are abundant family and archival photographs, maps and illustrations which add to the reader's understanding and enjoyment of the book. And, finally, those readers who only know Kalman as a name on a book title can now put a human face to the name and get to know her as a person, someone who has overcome adversity and has become an inspiration to others. Writing about herself, Kalman says that she will never forget the kindness shown to her by the Huber family in Austria and has spent the rest of her life "paying forward" that kindness to others.
With world events such as they are today, this book, with its universal themes of oppression, war and displacement, is timely and inspirational.
A table of contents, an index and a glossary are provided.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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