WW2 is raging across Europe and has also reached Hungary. Gina Vitay’s father is a general and as such well aware of the dangers that come with Hitler’s advance. He decides to hide his daughter in Matula Institute, a boarding school on the eastern border. Gina is all but used to strict policies as she finds in the closed Puritan world and it does not take too long until she has set the other girls against her. There are rules and there are other rules, breaking the official ones is not a problem, but undermining the secret laws of the girls is punished with exclusion and contempt. It will take Gina a lot of effort to win back the girls’ confidence which she will desperately need since there are dangers looming over her that she is not at all aware of.
Magda Szabó was a Hungarian writer who was forbidden to publish by the Communist Party after being labelled an enemy of the state. “Abigail” is one of her best-known novels which was first published in 1970 and has since then been translated into numerous languages, however, this is the first time it is available in English. In 1993, Szabó was nominated member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts and she is one of the most widely translated and read female Hungarian writers.
The novel cleverly interweaves friendship with the events of the Second World War. The notion of a world of black and white does not hold out against reality anymore and telling a friend from an enemy has become a difficult task. The world of the boarding school is walled off from the outside, the approaching war does not play a role, yet, for Gina, she has to fight her own battles within the old walls of the institution. The dynamics of a group of girls enclosed is very well portrayed in the novel, they develop their own set of order and exercise law if necessary. An interesting aspect is the character of “Abigail”, a statue which come to help if addressed by one of the girls. Until the very end, the readers can only speculate who is behind it and supports the girls against the strict direction of the school.
The spirit of the time of its origin can be read in every line, “Abigail” is far from today’s Young Adult or coming-of-age novels. The beautiful language and lovely details of the characters make it an outstanding document of its time and still worth reading fifty years after it has been written.
An seinem letzten Abend in Istanbul vergnügt sich der englische Ingenieur Graham gerade mit Freunden, als ihn die Cabaret Tänzerin Josette auf einen Mann aufmerksam macht, der ihn scheinbar beobachtet. Graham kümmert sich nicht weiter darum und wird in seinem Hotelzimmer böse überrascht, da jemand direkt nach seinem Eintreten das Feuer eröffnet. Von der Polizei erfährt er, dass bereits ein Anschlag auf ihn vereitelt wurde und nun müssen seine Pläne zur Rückkehr nach England kurzerhand umdisponiert werden. Nicht mit dem Orientexpress, sondern mit einem Schiff wird er die Heimreise antreten. Es ist 1939, der Krieg steht kurz bevor und als Entwickler für Kriegswaffen stellt er ein interessantes und gefährliches Ziel für die Nazis dar. Wider Willen bewaffnet geht Graham an Board, hoffend, dass die Gefahr gebannt ist.
Eric Ambler schrieb „Journey into Fear“ 1940 unter dem Eindruck des deutsch-sowjetischen Nichtangriffspakts, der den erklärten Antifaschisten nachhaltig schockierte. Wie auch in anderen seiner Spionageromanen ist sein Protagonist ein Durchschnittsbürger, kein Polizist, kein Spion und schon gar kein ausgefeilter Agent. Zufällig gerät er zwischen die Fronten und muss sich selbst retten, da auf Ordnungsbehörden in den Wirren Zeiten kein Verlass ist.
Typisch für Romane aus dieser Zeit folgt der Krimi einem klassischen Muster und erfüllt damit voll die Erwartungen. Die Handlung spielt sich überwiegend auf dem Schiff von Istanbul nach Genua mit kurzem Zwischenstopp in Athen ab. Graham trifft unerwartet wieder auf Josette und ihren Mann, die hoffen in Paris ein neues Engagement zu erhalten. Daneben macht er mit einem französischen Ehepaar Bekanntschaft, die den deutschen Archäologen an Bord verabscheuen. Ein türkischer Handelsreisender für Zigaretten komplettiert das Figurenensemble. Man weiß, dass mindestens einer von ihnen sicher lügen wird und unter falscher Identität reist, es dauert auch nicht lange, bis sie sich gegenseitig der Spionage und übler Absichten verdächtigen.
Es ist vermutlich seiner Zeit geschuldet, dass die einzige weibliche Figur eindimensional dumm ist, davon abgesehen liefert Ambler aber genau das, was man von einem Spionagekrimi der 1930/40er Jahre erwarten würde: fokussiert auf den Fall, klare Fronten und keine hochdramatische Action mit unnötig brutalen und langwierigen Ballerszenen, das bisschen Schießerei ist glaubwürdig motiviert und wohl dosiert.
In a small place north of Montreal, an old lady is found dead, strangled and frozen outside. Who would ever do such a thing to a woman of more than eighty years? Not far from the scene of crime Marie cares about her mother Claire who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. It’s time to move her to a home where better care can be taken of her. When her mother sees the report of the murder in the newspaper, she refers to old Mrs Newman as Mrs Kovak and is convinced that the victim is her former neighbour. Just the talk of a demented woman or a memory that will reveal a lot about the case and the motive of the murderer?
Ann Lambert’s novel takes quite an interesting turn that I didn’t expect at all. To a murder case she adds a bit of Canadian history that is not often heard of, one of those things people prefer to forget about because it is embarrassing. What I appreciated most was how the author managed in her debut to intertwine different plot lines that at first seem to be totally independent without any connection.
It is mainly two aspects that made me ponder while reading the novel. First of all, I had never heard of the Canadian position towards European refugees after WW II and most certainly didn’t I ever connect the country with the idea of being a refuge for Nazi collaborators. Second, the novel provides an interesting study of human nature, Tomas/Ennis is seemingly lacking any kind of compassion and willing to do everything to get what he deserves in his opinion. Both of them linked inevitably lead to the question if there is something “running in the blood” – the father part of the most atrocious crimes of the 20th century and the son likewise ruthless? Apart from the plot, I liked Lambert’s style of writing a lot and I am looking forward to reading more from her.
Hedy Lamarr – Hollywood Star of the glorious 1940s with an unknown past. She grew up in Vienna where she had her first successful performances which attracted the attention of Fritz Mandl, an influential military arms manufacturer. Being Jewish wasn’t that big a problem at the time, but her father already felt that refusing a man like Mandl added to their religion wasn’t a good idea and thus, she first accepted the invitation to dinner and finally married him. But soon after their honeymoon, things changed drastically and the only role she was allowed to play was that of the silent wife who was nice to look at. What her husband did underestimate was her quick wit and her capacity of listening. And listen she did when he met the big players who prepared for a new world order with the help of her husband’s weapons. After her successful escape to the US, she used her intelligence and her knowledge for revenge: she developed a radio guidance system for torpedoes.
Admittedly, I had never heard of Hedy Lamarr before starting to read the novel. And even at the beginning I supposed the protagonist was simply a fictional character. When I became aware of the actual background, the woman’s life felt even more impressive than just the narration which I already liked a lot.
The actress is the narrator and centre of the novel and it does not take too long for the reader to figure out that she isn’t just the nice face and talented actress but a smart woman interested in everyday politics with a sharp and alert mind. She follows her father’s line of thoughts about Mandl’s advances and understands that she isn’t in a position to freely decide. The way she planned her escape shows not only how clever she can plot but also her courage. In America she is first reduced to the beautiful actress and it surely hit her hard when her invention was refused by the navy. If it rally was because she was a woman as the novel suggests or if there were other motives doesn’t really matter – she wasn’t recognised for what she was, but only for what people saw in her. Hopefully narratives of these kind of women help to change the mind of those who still believe that the looks go hand in hand with a simple mind.