Eleven year old Kicsi lives in a small Hungarian village where the Rabbi leads the community. A stranger named Vörös comes to stay with her family and takes away a curse the Rabbi put on the school, and warns them all to leave for America. He flees but Kicsi cannot forget him, dreaming of him and his life of travelling the world. When he returns he and the rabbi do battle – but the whole village is emptied by the arrival of Germans and the war.
I saw this book reviewed on the wonderful bookishswint blog and just had to read it! I was delighted to find it on netgalley, and was entranced as soon as I started it – and read almost all of it in a day.
I loved the blend of what felt like a traditional fairytale set in a small village colliding with the history of war. Though obviously the stories of the concentration camp are horrible, the idea of the old world being forced into the new was extremely well realised. The magic itself is fairly unexplained but wonderful, and has a real folklore feel to it, highlighting the idea of innocence before the war hits. Though of course, it is real, it apparently has little power to stop the terror that is just over the horizon.
Kicsi is a brilliant character, and tracking her journey from a young child fascinated with magic to someone completely wrecked by the horrors of the holocaust was intriguing. You become desperate for her to regain her selfhood and her love for life that so attracted us to her young character.
The contrast of good and evil, of Vörös and the innocent characters against the nazis and the rabbi worked well, with prejudice against the unknown tying together the bad guys. Interestingly the story was kept very focussed on Kisci rather than going massively deeply into the history, which made it possible for it to return to the magic and a final battle but also for her to move forward into the new world.
I think this book is absolutely wonderful, and will definitely read it again. I’d firmly recommend it to anyone!