Top critical review
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Difficult And Revealing
on November 12, 2009
Kati Marton's "Enemies of the People" will interest those who are Iron Curtain buffs, those of Hungarian descent or anyone that enjoys reading about tragedy and eventual triumph. However, it won't interest a huge swath of any one group and that is because it deals with difficult subjects that happened in an era most have forgotten.
The book centers around her parents, both correspondents working for the AP and UPI behind the Hungarian Iron Curtain during the late 40s until mid-to-late 50s. Both were watched intensely by the secret police and, while allowed to live a certain life of luxury compared to average citizens of the time, both were eventually imprisoned and later released. The entire family came to the U.S. and started over once they escaped Hungary with the help of American friends.
Marton dwells on the rough years after the war, her slow realization of her family being watched by the AVI and the events that surrounded her parents arrest for most of the book, using a "look back" technique aided by papers she was given access to by both governments. One-on-one interviews and a revisit to her homeland help round out the story toward the end. As any offspring might do, she writes about her parents with a questioning viewpoint and allows us into their private family matters with a journalist's approach and a documentary style. It may seem cold to some, but when dealing with what could be seen as highly emotional events, she stays calm and almost detached. And this feels correct given the circumstances and the horrible realities she was dealt as a child. It could have easily slipped into self-pitying, psychological blather, and this reader is appreciative that she chose the cleaner path as it kept my interest going.
The book moves quite slowly, (thus the 3 stars) but this may be due to the overwhelming number of governmental and sociological facts, the country where it took place and the world-changing events that were happening at the time. It would be a difficult task for any writer to write about a complex childhood (how many of us know someone who's parents were both glamorous war correspondents?) while weaving post-war spying, the Hungarian revolution and an escape to America into the mix without them becoming the overwhelming focus. For that alone, Marton should be applauded, but the load of factual information may probably weed out anyone who doesn't fit the categories above. It's difficult stuff to deal with in any venue and while Marton handles it well, the book may only appeal to a narrow taste-set.
A pleasant surprise was Marton's inclusion of interviews of key people at the end of the book, individuals who played a part in keeping an eye on her parents both in the U.S. and in Hungary. It reveals not only her need for finding answers long after her parents death, but a need for closure on what must have been a difficult and long chapter in her life. As readers, we are allowed to look into that life, get a dark glimpse and move into the bright future she eventually came to know as a celebrated journalist and writer.