Sometimes a story is so powerful that it haunts you long after you've finished reading it. That's the way I feel about the memoir Burning Horses: A Hungarian Life Turned Upside Down. The author Agatha Hoff assumes the voice of her mother Éva Leopold Badics to tell her moving story. Éva was born to an aristocratic family in Szekszárd, a small town in southern Hungary, in 1905. Her grandfather was Jewish but she was raised Catholic. She had an idyllic childhood filled with piano lessons, party dresses, and carefree vacations. She met her husband, a graduate student named Jóska Badics, at a dance, and for their wedding in 1926 her parents deeded them a two hundred acre farm southwest of Budapest. The happy couple looked forward to a simple life in the countryside with their two little girls Livia and Agatha.
But World War II changes everything. Éva and Jóska's innocent belief that “it could never happen here” is replaced with the grim reality of life in Budapest under Nazi occupation. The noose begins to tighten around Éva because of her Jewish ancestry, threatening to tear her family apart. No writer of fiction could ever have imagined the ordeals they had to suffer to stay alive, nor could he have created a character as indomitable as Éva. Her experience is simultaneously awe-inspiring and heartbreaking. This is not just a Holocaust story, but also a story of love and perseverance in the face of man's inhumanity, told in clear but poetic prose by a loving daughter.