Friday, 29 April 2016

Fever at Dawn

Author: Peter Gardos
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Paperback
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Publisher: House of Anansi
First Published: April 30, 2016
First Line: "My father Miklós, sailed to Sweden on a rainy summer's day three weeks after the Second World War ended."

Book Description from GoodReads: Twenty-five-year-old Holocaust survivor Miklós is being shipped from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to Gotland, Sweden, to receive treatment at the Larbro Hospital. Here he is sentenced to death again: he is diagnosed with tuberculosis and his doctors inform him that he has six months to live. But Miklós decides to wage war on his own fate: he writes 117 letters to 117 Hungarian girls, all of whom are being treated in the Swedish camps, with the aim of eventually choosing a wife from among them.

Two hundred kilometres away, in another Swedish rehabilitation camp, nineteen-year-old Lili receives Miklós’s letter. Since she is bedridden for three weeks due to a serious kidney problem, out of boredom — and curiosity — she decides to write back.

The slightly formal exchange of letters becomes increasingly intimate. When the two finally manage to meet, they fall in love and are determined to marry, despite the odds that are against them.

Based on the original letters written by Miklós and Lili (ninety-six altogether), Fever at Dawn is a tale of passion, striving, and betrayal; true and false friendships; doubt and faith; and the redeeming power of love.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

My Review: This short book details what life was like for two Holocaust survivors who have been sent to Sweden after the end of WWII.  It is a fictionalized story about the author's own parents and how they fell in love. 

Reviewing a memoir is hard because you're dealing with people's lives and memories.  While I found the premise of this book interesting and a lovely tribute to the author's parents, I had a few issues with the book that don't deal with the story as much as the delivery. 

First, the writing itself was quite simple and while I liked that there were snippets of real letters interspersed throughout the book giving it authenticity, they were added in odd spots which gave the book a choppy feel. There were also some instances where the author changed the narrative from an omniscient narrator (usually with Lili or Miklós as the subject) to the author referring to Miklós as 'my father'.  Perhaps we can chalk it up to translation issues but I found it confusing at times. 

Living in such circumstances after surviving a horrific war would have been an emotional and hectic time but that energy and emotion was lacking in this book. Several issues were touched on but not dealt with in enough depth for me to get engaged with the characters.  For example, the dialogue between Lili and Miklós was sweet but lackluster - not a relationship that 'becomes increasingly intimate' as the book description suggests.  The feelings between the couple were only touched on (and had a more desperate feel than love) and their brief times together didn't help to solidify their relationship to me.  

This book had promise but overall it fell flat for me. While Fever at Dawn lacks emotion and tension it is a quiet memoir and a nice way for the author to preserve and honour a part of his parents' history. 

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to House of Anansi for providing me with a paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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