Recommended Read – Csardas by Diane Pearson

CSARDAS – taken from the name of the Hungarian national dance – follows the fortunes of the enchanting Ferenc sisters from their glittering beginnings in aristocratic Hungary, through the traumas of two World Wars.

From the dazzling elegance of coming-out balls, feudal estates and a culture steeped in romance, to terror and starvation in the concentration camps – no story could be more dramatic than that of Eva and Amalia Ferenc, whose fate it is to be debutantes when the shot which killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo plunged Europe into the First World War. Their story is enthralling, tragic, romantic – and absolutely unputdownable.

Csardas is incredibly well researched giving a detailed and seemingly faultless history of Hungary from the feudal society which existed in the Austro-Hungarian empire before the First World War through to the creation of the communist state after the Second. With a clever choice of families to follow (aristocrats, wealthy half-Jews and poor serfs) Ms Pearson has been able to look at the key points in the history of Hungary from all perspectives in a narrative which is never ‘instructive’ but flows as a good story should.

The novel is well written giving a real feel of time and place whilst gently encouraging the reader to invest in the lives of its central characters who are believable and multi-layered. You will soon find yourself loving some and feeling less sympathetic towards others – the shallow young girl who never really grows up; the aristocrat whose experiences during World War One leave him mentally scared in a way that guides his future actions; the peasant boy who can’t commit to others because of his fear of loss…

The publisher’s description of this book may give the impression of a romance novel but it is much more than that. There are love stories intertwined throughout, but that is the nature of life itself; where Csardas excels is in the subtle way in which serious topics are covered from the depravities of war to the suppression of the lower classes and horrific treatment of Jews. Essentially this is a book which charts how life and culture in a country changes due to politics and war, giving the reader a fascinating insight into a country which we all know of but know little about.

The beginning of Csardas may seem a little slow to some readers as it sets the scene within Hungary at the beginning of the twentieth century and introduces the key characters, but this is necessary as it gives a great foundation for the engrossing story which follows. This is a book which I have read a number of times and no doubt will return to again in the future.

If you like well-written epic stories based on historical fact then Csardas is for you.

Csardas is available on Amazon

You can find out about other books by Diane Pearson here

You can find more of my Recommended Reads here

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