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A Crime in the Family: A World War II Secret Buried in Silence--and My Search for the Truth Hardcover – October 10, 2017
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"Evocatively written with a sharp journalist's eye, A Crime in the Family lingers in the mind long after the final page is turned."--Literary Review
"Extraordinary... Self-discovery, journalistic rigor, and a novelist's way...congeal against a gripping historical backdrop."--Irish Independent
"Fascinating...With the caution of a sapper dismantling a bomb, [Batthyany] peels away the historical details."--Haaretz
"Dazzlingly written"--Der Spiegel
"Tells Batthyany's twisted family history... An elegant history, relentless and honest."--Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung
"[A] disturbing memoir...Though Sacha was not the first to write about this horrendous deed, his compulsive research and meditations enormously broaden the scope of information and understanding."―Jewish Book Council
"[Batthyany] engrossingly uses diary entries, a script, email notes and a shrink's couch to unfold layers of guilt."
"A brilliant memoir and mystery rolled into one...This book is a fascinating jaunt, examining the raw legacy of war crimes and multi-generational blame and guilt. It is well worth the read."
"A deeply personal book."―Portland Book Review
About the Author
Sacha Batthyany was born in Switzerland in 1973 to Hungarian emigre parents. He was an editor at the Neue Zurcher Zeitung and is now a political reporter for the Suddeutsche Zeitung, based in Washington, DC.
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If you are one who is just in life for the ride, this is probably not the book for you.
We have read many inspiring stories of those who risked their lives by hiding Jews, by being part of the resistance fighters, or otherwise attempting to fight off Nazi occupiers within the Axis territories.A Crime in the Family gives us a different point of view, that of the descendant of some who did not resist, who may have been complicit in murders carried out by German soldiers.
Sacha Batthyany is confronted one day by a co-worker's comments about his great-aunt's horrendous acts at a party near the end of the war. Totally unaware of the incident, he starts a search for the "truth" of the matter and finds yet another crime that hits even closer to home. He is given his grandmother's journals (that she had asked to have destroyed at her death, a request not honored by her son) and uses that information and his own research to travel as far as Siberia and South America to uncover the full details.
The author's narrative of his quest is interspersed with entries from the journals of two different women. His use of email conversation transcriptions along with these first person writings weaves an effective, thought -provoking tale. How should such dark family secrets be handled? Is it ever possible to make reparations for the sins of parents and grandparents we loved and knew as totally different persons than the ones involved in very heinous actions?
This is definitely a book for anyone interested in the overall horrors of the Nazi era, if ony to gain a small perspective on the way long ago actions still influence those living decades later.
Batthyany quickly veers from that (in fact he barely pays any attention to Margit) to the story of his grandmother, Maritta, who lived in a Hungarian castle that, when she was a young woman, employed 20 Jewish slave laborers, including the Mandls, who had run the village shop. He parallels Maritta’s story with that of Agnes, the Mandls’s young daughter, who is transported to Auschwitz but survives. The parallel stories of Maritta and Agnes are the heart of the book and it would have worked much better if Batthyany had stuck with the two women.
Instead, Batthyany wanders all over, throwing in the story of his grandfather, a Hungarian Army soldier who was captured by the Soviets at the end of the war and sent to Siberia for 10 years, and Batthyany’s own experiences with a psychoanalyst, with his father and even a couple of conversations he has with a Hungarian prostitute he meets in Switzerland. Batthyany jumps from past to present and mixes narrative, excerpts from diaries, and imagined scenes that become more and more dubiously imagined.
It’s a confusing jumble, and the constant jumping from one story and one type of storytelling to another makes it difficult to become invested in any part of the book, though I will say that Batthyany partially redeems himself toward the end, when he focuses more consistently on Maritta and Agnes. It’s ambitious for Batthyany to try to tackle the issues of relative guilt, comparisons of German and Soviet abuses, the lives people live after experiencing the horrors of war, how to judge the actions of those in the past. Unfortunately, it’s just too ambitious. Batthyany doesn’t manage to tell a coherent story, and too many of his topics are discursive rather than illuminating, especially his insertion of himself into the narrative.
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Batthyany takes a somewhat roundabout way to tell a story about his...Read more