Strangers in Budapest
Budapest: gorgeous city of secrets, with ties to a shadowy, bloody past. It is to this enigmatic European capital that a young American couple, Annie and Will, move from Boston with their infant son shortly after the fall of the Communist regime. For Annie, it is an effort to escape the ghosts that haunt her past, and Will wants simply to seize the chance to build a new future for his family.
Eight months after their move, their efforts to assimilate are thrown into turmoil when they receive a message from friends in the US asking that they check up on an elderly man, a fiercely independent Jewish American WWII veteran who helped free Hungarian Jews from a Nazi prison camp. They soon learn that the man, Edward Weiss, has come to Hungary to exact revenge on someone he is convinced seduced, married, and then murdered his daughter.
Annie, unable to resist anyone’s call for help, recklessly joins in the old man’s plan to track down his former son-in-law and confront him, while Will, pragmatic and cautious by nature, insists they have nothing to do with Weiss and his vendetta. What Annie does not anticipate is that in helping Edward she will become enmeshed in a dark and deadly conflict that will end in tragedy and a stunning loss of innocence.
I can honestly say that this was one of the slowest moving dramatic books I’ve ever read. I’m going to be absolutely honest here, but these are MY opinions, and mine alone.
Overall, I did not like this book, though there were some aspects of it that I quite thoroughly enjoyed. The author, Jessica, spent so much time describing the amazing country and city in which this book takes place that I feel as though I’ve visited it myself! The descriptions for architecture and the personality of the overall community gave me a great sense of being in the book. I thrive off of setting descriptors- I can visualize people if I’m not given a description, but if I don’t have an image of the place written down, it turns into characters standing in a white room. So for me to feel as though I stepped into the amazing city of Budapest itself was amazing. I could smell the food and the heat. I could taste the stench of garbage as it wafted around the streets. I could see the intricately carved archways that had withstood the test of time through WWII and the communist regime. I was there. I was standing on the street corner with Annie and Edward.
The characters in this book though are completely opposite to the setting. I have never read more lifeless, singularly dimensional characters will less of motivation in life than these. Will was in no part integral to the book other than being the person to say “Let’s move to Budapest”. He was like a background character (no depth, emotion, drive, or wants in life) that had accidentally been promoted to a main character against his will. I don’t even know what he looks like apart from some (maybe) ginger hair. Edward had to be the most fleshed out character in the book, and that’s not just because he’s a little portly. I knew what he looked like, what he sounded like, and what his drives in life were. I think the only reason I can picture what he looks like though is because he reminds me of my great uncle. Annie. Annie is another character that I have no clue what she looks like. She has this strange “white American female privilege sympathy act” that she plays up whenever she sees somebody who she believes is in need. Be that Gypsy’s or Edward, but she seems to have no at all for her toddler son who spends the day with a nanny (even to Annie is an unemployed human).
As far as “mysteries” go, I knew who was who the second I was introduced to the characters. The story itself was so slow in progression that it didn’t feel like there was a story to tell at all. Everything written, apart from a very few, select details, we in no way integral to the story. It was anything but a page-turner, and it caused me physical pain to pick up.
If you prefer “slow burn” kinds of books, you may like this. I, however, found no joy in this book apart from walking the streets in which this book takes place.
Bookshelf Score: 2/5 stars