The best books on Hungary

5 authors have picked their favorite books about Hungary and why they recommend each book.

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The Radetzky March

By Joseph Roth,

Book cover of The Radetzky March

Joseph Roth, an alcoholic, itinerant journalist who never had a proper home, was a friend of Stefan Zweig but enjoyed nothing like his success; yet I think this is one of the greatest neglected novels ever written. The last, collapsing days of the Austro–Hungarian empire are depicted through a family saga whose characters burn themselves onto one's mind. Claustrophobic, unremitting, reminiscent in some ways of Kafka at his best, for my money this knocks Zweig's Beware of Pity into a cocked hat! A depiction of a degenerate society at its last gasp surely also has strong parallels with the modern world.

Who am I?

I think Zoroastrianism got it right: there's a constant knife-edge balance between good and evil, with neither quite winning; but we shouldn't be overconfident that one day that balance will tip to the bad side because that is always more dominant. Art in all forms has served dictators and tyrants as well as criticised them; few works have ever actually changed anything. If they have, it's been through literature most of all. Zola's 'j'accuse' and Sinclair's 'the jungle' are two obvious examples, but all the books I have chosen are powerful tools for self–examination, and as someone who is particularly interested in man's inhumanity to man I have found them useful. 

I wrote...

The Journey Back from Hell

By Anton Gill,

Book cover of The Journey Back from Hell

What is my book about?

The Journey Back from Hell is the result of interviews with Jewish and gentile survivors, from all walks of life, of the Nazi concentration camps. It's the result of talking to people throughout Europe, Israel, the USA, and Canada, a journey I made between 1985 and 1988. The book is now a standard work in the area of Holocaust history. 

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

By Julian Rubinstein,

Book cover of Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts

If not for the Internet’s ability to locate actual news coverage of events, one could be forgiven for thinking Rubenstein’s tale of Attila Ambrus – a Hungarian hockey player turned pelt smuggler and bank robberwas a fanciful work of pure fiction. That it is indeed a true story makes it all the more delicious as the unlikely tale of an unremarkable player on an unremarkable team becomes a storied folk hero precisely because he’s so bad at breaking the law. You will find yourself rooting for the bumbling protagonist of this true story, perhaps because he is so earnest in his questionable endeavors. Rubinstein told me over a decade ago that the story had been optioned for the big screen with Johnny Depp in mind, but it would seem that, sadly, that ship sailed long ago. It would make a great film. (My connection: Rubinstein and I are…

Who am I?

“Write what you know.” Every writer knows this. I have done that; first, in a novella, Losing Addison, which I recently made into a psychological thriller featuring Sherilyn Fenn (release date: June 28, 2022). The story is based on a nightmare I had in 2011. In addition, I have written two novels, By A Thread and The Falls, both of which involve Mormon missionaries caught up in events that test their integrity, forcing them to make difficult choices as said missionaries discover same-sex attractions more deeply rooted than they—and their superiors—would like to admit.

I wrote...

By a Thread

By Marty Beaudet,

Book cover of By a Thread

What is my book about?

"The time will come when the Constitution and the Government will hang by a thread and will be ready to fall...but this people, the Latter-Day Saints, will step forth and save it."

Thus prophesied the founding prophet of the Mormon Church. Is this prophecy on the verge of being fulfilled? Some adherents to the faith within the U.S. government think so. But what role will 21-year-old missionary Kevin "Red" Davis play when the CIA approaches him? What choices will he make when his faith, his patriotism, and his personal integrity come into conflict? Unfolding on the streets of Vienna, Munich, Washington, D.C., and in the confines of a prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, By A Thread is a tale of truth, trust, and betrayal.

The Notebook, the Proof, the Third Lie

By Agota Kristof, Alan Sheridan (translator), David Watson (translator), Marc Romano (translator)

Book cover of The Notebook, the Proof, the Third Lie: Three Novels

Agota Kristof is the same age as my father and experienced the same country, Hungary, move from its pre-war existence to dictatorship and deportations during the war and then, after the war, turning into a communist state. Her absolutely brilliant storytelling is mystifying, present, and distant at the same time, maybe an allegory over the state of her homeland, maybe over being human. The Notebook is mindblowing.

Who am I?

My Hungarian father was 7 years old when he almost got deported to Polen by the Nazis, but was miraculously saved by his mother. He came to Sweden, where I´m born, and never looked back, completely focused on the future. So I, his only child, focus on memory and oblivion. It´s like we stand back to back—or like I´m a seamstress, trying to stitch the past with the present. In my British mother´s family history is Salonica, the magical Jewish city in the Ottoman Empire. My Spanish-Jewish grandfather spoke the same Castillian dialect that Cervantes used to write Don Quijote. And I´m born in Sweden. These are my universes and where my writing is born.  

I wrote...

1947: Where Now Begins

By Elisabeth Åsbrink, Fiona Graham (translator),

Book cover of 1947: Where Now Begins

What is my book about?

1947: Where Now Begins is not only a gripping family history. The careful juxtaposition of disparate events highlights an underlying interconnectedness and suggests a new way of thinking about the postwar era. The book deals with a decisive year, follows Simone de Beauvoir, Raphael Lemkin, George Orwell among others, and traces the key person, Per Engdahl, who revives the fascist and Nazi movements after WW2. A single, momentous year that is resonating very, very clearly today.

Masks and Shadows

By Stephanie Burgis,

Book cover of Masks and Shadows

This is a comfort read I come back to again and again. It’s a historical fantasy filled with political intrigue and with multiple overlapping storylines, and I revel in the rich historical detail of 18th-century Austria. But the heart of the novel is the romance between timid young widow Charlotte von Steinbeck and charismatic castrato Carlo Morelli. Both outsiders in their own ways, they’re brought together by a shared appreciation of music, and their relationship gives both of them the courage to push back against the narrow expectations imposed on them by society.

Who am I?

It’s often been said of musical theatre that the point when the characters begin to sing is the point their emotions become too much to express in words alone. I think that’s one reason I’m so obsessed with books about people connecting over music, art, and performance—it allows for so much passion and intensity. Having sung and played instruments over the years, I know how powerful it can feel to make music with other people, even when you’re not in love! These days, though, I spend more time reading and writing about music than I do playing it.

I wrote...

A Duet for Invisible Strings

By Llinos Cathryn Thomas,

Book cover of A Duet for Invisible Strings

What is my book about?

Heledd, leader of the first violins, has been in love with her irrepressible conductor Rosemary for years. She’s keeping a secret that means she can never be with Rosemary, but the time they spend working and performing together is enough for her—until a near miss with a speeding car forces her to reevaluate everything she thought she knew.

When the orchestra is mysteriously summoned to perform in the Welsh village where Heledd grew up—a village she hasn’t returned to in decades—the life she’s made for herself begins to unravel, and her secrets threaten to escape.

The Cuisine of Hungary

By George Lang,

Book cover of The Cuisine of Hungary

The legendary restaurateur George Lang escaped from a labor camp under the Nazis and in 1946 managed to emigrate to New York City. This book is his love letter to his native land. I can't think of another writer who conveys the fascinating history of Hungarian cuisine with such detail and depth of feeling. The book features "Gastronomic Profiles" of the country's distinctive regions and contains excellent information on Hungarian wines. Lang's book is rich in literary quotations, including an ode "To a Fattened Goose" by József Berda. The recipes are excellent, many with enticing names like "Witches' Froth," which Lang describes as a "featherweight dessert" to offset the richness of an otherwise heavy meal.

Who am I?

I've been thinking and writing about food ever since I spent a year in the Soviet Union many decades ago and discovered that food is a wonderfully immediate way to enter into another culture. My first cookbook led to a stint as a spokesperson for Stolichnaya vodka when it was first introduced to the US—a fascinating exercise in cross-cultural communication during the Cold War. In 2001 I founded Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, which deepened my interest in culinary cultures around the world. Cookbooks aren't just about recipes. For me, the best ones include personal stories and history that transport you to other realms.

I wrote...

Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore

By Darra Goldstein,

Book cover of Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore

What is my book about?

I love the icy beauty of cold climates, which I've written about in several of my cookbooks. For Beyond the North Wind, I traveled to remote regions of the Russian North to explore the true heart of Russian food and show how foods from a harsh climate can be surprisingly sophisticated. The book celebrates whole grains, preserved and fermented foods, and straightforward but robust flavors, with recipes for a dazzling array of pickles and preserves; infused vodkas; homemade dairy products and baked cultured milk; a pantheon of pies; large, lacy blini; and seasonal vegetable soups.

Beyond the North Wind is a home-style cookbook with a strong sense of place that offers a rarely seen portrait of Russia, its people, and its palate.

I Have Lived a Thousand Years

By Livia Bitton-Jackson,

Book cover of I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust

This is an extremely well-written first-person account of how anti-Semitism followed and haunted Livia (born Elli Friedmann in Czechoslovakia) before, during, and after she, her brother, and mother were shipped off to Auschwitz.  The atrocities and harassment they endured in the death camp didn’t stop after they were liberated in 1945 because so many anti-Semites made life unbearable, yet eventually Livia and her family triumphed.

Who am I?

I have penned more than 120 nonfiction books on a broad range of subjects for general audiences and middle-school readers, including five books about the true-life experiences of young people during the Holocaust.  The most heartbreaking, yet inspiring, moments in my decades-long writing career have been my interviews with Holocaust survivors, who, as children, relied on their courage, their faith, their smarts—and sometimes their luck—to endure years of unbelievable terror.

I wrote...

Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust

By Allan Zullo, Mara Bovsun,

Book cover of Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust

What is my book about?

It tells the incredible true stories of nine brave young Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, whose riveting accounts are based on the personal, lengthy interviews with the author. These children each found a way to make it through the nightmare of genocide. Some hid, some fled, some fought. Others suffered unbearable agony in ghettos, death marches and concentration camps.

Although it’s hard to imagine that anyone that young could bear so much agony from so much cruelty, this book is a celebration of the human spirit — of the will to overcome unspeakable horrors, the will to triumph over evil, the will to live. In fact, these survivors all shared a common trait: They believed in their hearts that they would live even when so many around them were dying. 


By Magda Szabo, Len Rix (translator),

Book cover of Abigail

I can’t forget my very talented compatriot, Magda Szabó’s great writing. I am very proud of her and her success. It was hard work and lasted a lifetime for her to reach as Hungarian her books became popular worldwide. I hope one day I can follow her… This book is set in a religious school in the middle of World War II. The protagonist is young Gina, the daughter of a Hungarian General. The novel analyzes important social problems, teenager problems. At first, Gina is an outcast then we can see how she tries to fit in the class, and she makes friends. Friendship and togetherness are in the spotlight in this novel.

Who am I?

I'm an archaeologist and addicted to reading and writing historical fictions. My first big love is history and I prefer Victorian Era. I’m interested in women’s lives and their habits and relationships in the old times. I was born and raised in Hungary, I’m often stay in London. I was working for years in museums in different cities while I was writing historical short stories and my first novel. School of Ladies – The Debutantes is a historical romance which has won an Audience Award in my country.

I wrote...

School of Ladies: The Debutantes

By Ennie Smith,

Book cover of School of Ladies: The Debutantes

What is my book about?

This is a story about six seventeen-year-old girls attending a charm school where they are preparing for the ball of their lives, as they try to find their perfect match in a true gentleman.

Six young ladies and a ball. The Coming Out ball where they can become princesses for an evening, and the charm school where they prepare for their big opportunity. A story about a seventeen-year-old girl, Emma Derkin, and five other young ladies. They all want the same thing - to find the perfect mate. It takes place a long time ago in the Victorian Era, when every girl grew up as a real lady.

The Man Who Loved Only Numbers

By Paul Hoffman,

Book cover of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth

I well remember when Erdos came to MIT to visit my wonderful friend Gian-Carlo Rota. He traveled without money and without a place to stay. He depended entirely on friends. What he offered in return was something of much greater value: his ideas. A mathematician searches everywhere for the right problems to work on – not easy, not random, but opening a door from what we know to what we don't know. Erdos gave that ideal gift to his friends. If you wrote a paper with him, your Erdos number is 1.  

Who am I?

A key event in my mathematical life was videotaping my linear algebra class (the MATH 18.06 course at MIT). This was the right moment when MIT created OpenCourseWare to describe all courses freely to the world—with some big classes on video. Linear algebra has had 12 million viewers and many of them write to me. So many people like to learn about mathematics and read about mathematicians—it is a great pleasure to help. I hope you will enjoy the OpenCourseWare videos (on YouTube too), the books about mathematical lives, and the Introduction to Linear Algebra that many students learn from. This is real mathematics.

I wrote...

Introduction to Linear Algebra

By Gilbert Strang,

Book cover of Introduction to Linear Algebra

What is my book about?

Linear algebra has taken its place beside calculus as the essential course in college mathematics. Instead of functions f(x) and their derivatives df/dx, linear algebra connects vectors v with matrices A. That matrix has n columns of numbers, and "A times v" produces a combination of those columns. This is the book that goes with Gilbert Strang's lectures at MIT – open to the whole world and already watched by more than 12 million viewers. Please feel free to watch Math 18.06 on MIT. 

Inventing the Needy

By Lynne Haney,

Book cover of Inventing the Needy: Gender and the Politics of Welfare in Hungary

This is a fantastic book to understand how welfare institutions work. Lynne Haney, a sociologist, looks at the state from the bottom up and analyzes the relationship between welfare recipients and caseworkers in Hungary. It is a book rich in stories that place people, especially women, at the center of debates about welfare and social rights.

Who am I?

I’m a historian of Latin America and a professor at California State University, Los Angeles. I write about Chile’s labor and social history in the twentieth century. As a historian, I am especially interested in understanding how working people relate with public institutions and authorities, what they expect from the state, and how they have organized and expanded social and economic rights. While my research centers in Chile and Latin America, I also look to place regional debates in a transnational framework and see how ideas and people have moved across borders. I like books that bring working people’s diverse voices and experiences. 

I wrote...

Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile

By Ángela Vergara,

Book cover of Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile

What is my book about?

In Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile, Ángela Vergara narrates the story of how industrial and mine workers, peasants and day laborers, as well as blue-collar and white-collar employees earned a living through periods of economic, political, and social instability in twentieth-century Chile. The Great Depression transformed how Chileans viewed work and welfare rights and how they related to public institutions. Influenced by global and regional debates, the state put modern agencies in place to count and assist the poor and expand their social and economic rights.

Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile contributes to understanding the profound inequality that permeates Chilean history through a detailed analysis of the relationship between welfare professionals and the unemployed, the interpretation of labor laws, and employers’ everyday attitudes.

Canone Inverso

By Paolo Maurensig,

Book cover of Canone Inverso

Intense and intricate with complex human interactions subjected to the forces of history and destiny, Canone Inverso is both literary fiction and mystery. This gripping tale of evolving relationships centers around the field of classical music and a particular violin. With the setting in Germany, Austria, and Hungary during the turbulent 1930s and ’40s, a brilliant, working-class young violinist is secluded in a prison-like music conservatory with an aristocratic boy who befriends him. Gradually, their bond is severely tested. What is genius? What is friendship? What is the price paid for beauty and greatness? These are some of the issues we’re confronted with in this riveting novel.

Who am I?

I’ve spent a lifetime as a professional classical musician and a mystery reader. Starting with Hardy Boys adventures at the same time I started playing the violin, my intertwined love affairs with music and the mystery genre continue to this day. As a long-time member of major American symphony orchestras, I’ve heard and experienced so many stories about the dark corners of the classical music world that they could fill a library. It gives me endless pleasure to read other mystery authors’ take on this fascinating, semi-cloistered world and to share some of my own tales with the lay public in my Daniel Jacobus mystery series.

I wrote...

Cloudy with a Chance of Murder: A Daniel Jacobus Mystery

By Gerald Elias,

Book cover of Cloudy with a Chance of Murder: A Daniel Jacobus Mystery

What is my book about?

Cloudy With a Chance of Murder is the 7th and most recent installment of the critically acclaimed Daniel Jacobus mystery series. Jacobus is a curmudgeonly, reclusive, blind violin teacher with an acerbic wit, who manages to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into baffling murder cases. Drawing upon his exquisitely honed other senses, especially hearing, he has an uncanny knack for solving crimes while getting himself into hot water.

The setting for Cloudy is the Antelope Island Chamber Music Festival in the middle of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. A violent storm erupts, leaving Jacobus and his protégée, Yumi Shinagawa, trapped on the island with a homicidal maniac on the loose. Two administrators of the festival have already been murdered. Will Yumi be the third?

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