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Strangers in Budapest: A Novel Hardcover – November 14, 2017
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“Jessica Keener writes about post-communist Hungary with the heart and specificity of someone who’s lived it . . . her writing sparkles . . . Strangers in Budapest doesn’t exoticize or patronize its location; rather, in a rare achievement for an American novel of this international emphasis, it revels in the complexity of its appeal.”
“Full of seduction and intrigue, this thrilling novel is a perfect homage to a city in transition.”
“With chills lurking around each corner, this second novel by author Jessica Keener is the perfect page-turner for late autumn.”
“Full of suspense . . . Keener depicts Budapest as its own character, with beauty, suffering and colorful revolutionary attitudes.”
“A slow burn of an international psychological thriller. Recommended for fans of Chris Pavone.”
“Keener immerses the reader in Budapest’s post-communist period in all its tumultuous glory . . . the author combines strong characters and a riveting plot to craft a memorable novel.”
“Keener’s second psychological novel, set in modern Hungary, dramatizes both national and personal outcomes of harrowing past events. Budapest becomes a powerful symbol of past horrors, lush culture, and an uncertain future. Reminiscent of Hilary Mantel’s Eight Months on Ghazzah Street . . . and similar in tone and theme to Kim Brooks’ historical novel, The Houseguest.”
“In Keener’s Strangers in Budapest, the city is as much a character as any, and as Annie and others begin to cave under its crumbling weight, what’s revealed where East meets West is a story about the implacability of the past—present, progress, and denials notwithstanding.”
“A genuine love letter to a little-understood city, where even outsiders with the best intentions will always remain strangers.”
—Manhattan Book Review
“Keener expertly weaves together a story that not only showcases an expat life, but also shares the tragedies, memories and grudges of strangers in a beautiful city who are more connected than they have come to believe.”
“Keener’s writing is unquestionably skillful. Her ability to render multidimensional characters through sophisticated description and dialogue is excellent.”
—Chicago Review of Books
“Most impressive . . . is Keener’s Budapest, a rough-edged, darkly beautiful city rushing into the future. It makes for an ideal place in which to explore themes of loss, love, and the courage required to come to terms with the past.”
—Jewish Book Council
“Annie and Will, a young American couple with a new child, repair to Budapest to forge their future and escape their past. What they find is a city smothered by heat and tangled in history. When their paths cross with a mysterious elderly man named Edward Weiss, Annie discovers that she’s caught up in a life of tragedy that forces her to confront the losses in her own past. Strangers in Budapest is a beautifully written mystery propelled by well-crafted and fully imagined characters. Atmospheric and ominous, this novel asks us what we’re willing to do to start over in a new world when the old world won’t let us go.”
—Wiley Cash, bestselling author of The Last Ballad
“From the first pages of Strangers in Budapest, the words 'You must not tell anyone' made me feel as if a hand had reached out from the shadows to pull me under, and I was swept away inexorably by this hypnotic plot, these dark scenes, and the relentless tension. Budapest is a riveting, beautiful book that throbs with plot and sparkles with excellent prose.”
—Lydia Netzer, author of Shine Shine Shine
“A provocative novel about the power of the past--and our interpretations and misinterpretations of it--to haunt the present. An unlikely alliance between an elderly man and a young mother, both American ex-pats living in Budapest in the 1990s, brings this dilemma to life as the two struggle with their demons in a city unable to shake its own. A wonderful book.”
—B. A. Shapiro, author of The Muralist
“Jessica Keener has written a gorgeous, lyrical and sweeping novel about the tangled web of past and present. Set in a richly detailed Budapest, an American couple and their newly adopted son, there for the promise of building a business, become entangled with an irritable WWII vet hoping to settle a score. A story of confronting truths, acknowledging old wounds, and stepping into the present. Suspenseful, perceptive, fast-paced, and ultimately restorative.”
—Susan Henderson, author of Up from the Blue
“What do we run away from? And what do we run toward? Two American expatriates in Budapest, a lonely young mother with a devastating secret, and an old man desperate to discover the truth about his daughter’s death, forge a shattering connection. Gorgeously told and deeply moving, Keener’s brilliant new novel is a bold, brave and dazzlingly original tale about home, loss and the persistence of love.”
—Caroline Leavitt, author of Cruel Beautiful World
“In the Budapest of Jessica Keener’s gripping new novel, menace lurks down every street and infuses every interaction, until the city itself becomes a brooding, sinister presence. With lyrical prose, Keener examines grief and guilt, deception and hatred, and the search for an elusive redemption. Strangers in Budapest is a remarkable novel that continues to haunt me, weeks after I reached its powerful, unexpected conclusion.”
—Lauren Belfer, New York Times bestselling author of City of Light, A Fierce Radiance, and And After the Fire
“A mesmerizing story of love and loss. Keener probes the depths to which grief and disappointment can drive a person away from those who only wish to love them.”
—Karen Dionne, author of The Marsh King’s Daughter
“A taut, elegantly written, magnificent novel. I can touch, taste, smell, hear Budapest. Even the car alarms are rendered with beauty and precision. Jessica Keener turns pain and redemption into a masterful work of art.”
—Risa Miller, author of Welcome to Heavenly Heights
“In Strangers in Budapest, Jessica Keener’s riveting novel of conscience and suspense, multiple strands of fate and guilt, cultural memory and private trauma overlap and tighten into an ethical knot of compelling, hypnotic design. An enthralling read!”
—Melissa Pritchard, award-winning author of Palermo
“This exquisite novel draws the reader in from the very first pages and refuses to let go. Not only did I feel like I was in the exotic, beautiful city of Budapest, but every emotion felt by the young mother at the center of this ominous tale became my own. In Strangers in Budapest, Jessica Keener proves once again that she is a brilliant, lyrical writer with a true understanding of the human heart.”
—Ellen Marie Wiseman, internationally bestselling author of The Plum Tree, What She Left Behind, Coal River and The Life She Was Given
“Strangers in Budapest is both lyrical and propulsive, capacious and rich in detail. The characters will stay with you forever. A courageous, compassionate and deeply wise novel.”
—Patry Francis, author of The Orphans of Race Point
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in that city after the Cold War. It gets less high marks for an ok story about vengeance and betrayal. The ending seemed
forced and a little flat, thus on 5th star. But it is a well done look at a period of time in a really interesting city.
Will sets about trying to make the contacts and obtain the knowledge to realize the dream that inspired them to come to a country that was once within the Iron curtain. Annie dedicates herself to caring for their baby with the help of a hired baby sitter as well as looking for things that she could do in Hungary in order to be useful to her husband. Annie has the type of personality that causes her to look to help people that have problems needing resolution.
After the couple have been living and working in Budapest for about eight months Annie receives a phone call from friends of hers from the U.S. asking her to look up an older man that has just moved to Hungary. She does so and finds that the gentleman is there to look up a man he claims has murdered his daughter and stolen her inheritance. Will immediately vetoes the idea of associating with him but Annie's personality causes her to do just the opposite.
The well described setting in Budapest during it's period of transition coupled with what occurs with the the man Annie just met make for an interesting study in human relations occurring in Budapest during a difficult period of time. The three principals involved are sufficiently sketched out so that the reader is quickly dealing with people he or she can relate to in terms of the locale of the story and the events described. An ending that suits the events depicted puts a capstone on a very good read.
Set in 1995, the story introduces Annie and Will Gordon approximately eight months after they have moved from Boston to Budapest to start up a business. As we encounter them, they are on a walking journey through the city with their adopted infant son, Leo, on an errand of mercy. It’s a wellness check that they’re doing on behalf of their neighbors in Boston, who own a flat in Budapest and are worried about their tenant, an elderly gentleman named Edward Weiss. That concern is not misplaced. When Annie and Will first encounter Weiss, he appears to be a bit of a crusty customer, in poor health and prone to mood swings. The only warmth he exhibits is toward Leo, and even that is dolloped out intermittently and sparingly. He sends Annie and Will on their way after cautioning them not to tell anyone of his presence in the city.
It turns out that Weiss has an interesting history. An American veteran of World War II, he has emotional ties to Hungary as he helped free Hungarian Jews from a Nazi prison camp. He is presently in Budapest seeking his former son-in-law, Van Howard, whom he blames for the death of his daughter, Deborah. All he knows is that Howard is living in the city, somewhere near water. Annie is compassionate, possibly too much so, and wants to assist Weiss in finding Howard, but Will is dead set against it. He has his reasons, given that his grand design for a communications network based in Hungary is perhaps a bit too groundbreaking in and for a country where things move slowly, if at all, and whose inhabitants are suspicious of change in general and Americans in particular.
Things bubble along slowly in STRANGERS IN BUDAPEST, but that does not mean there is an absence of occurrences. The story is as much about what Annie and Will experience as the reader comes to a realization (long before these protagonists do) that their actions are impulsive and perhaps not well thought out. Keener does a masterful job of showing, without telling, how both of them, in different ways, bump up against a culture where everyone seems to have a rulebook except them. Annie, meanwhile, attempts to assist Weiss --- notwithstanding Will’s reticence --- and eventually realizes (long after the reader does) that she is actually much closer to holding the key to Weiss’ quest than either of them might suspect. The conclusion comes rather rapidly, but not before kismet manifests itself on more than one occasion. And while the book does not wrap up entirely neatly, everything is as it should be, at least to some degree.
STRANGERS IN BUDAPEST does not lend itself to easy categorization. Fans of slow-burn suspense novels, who also enjoy fish-out-of-water situations, will find much to love here. Will’s inability to navigate the waters of Budapest’s economy is especially interesting, where his “can-do” attitude bumps up against a worldview in which everything is “impossible” even when it isn’t. Those looking for a thriller that brings things down a notch from the standard fare currently available need seek no further.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub