Fever At Dawn by Peter Gardos
I was not prepared for how much I would love this book. So quiet and unassuming, I shudder to think how easily I could have missed it.
Peter Gardos (who is actually a Hungarian filmmaker) tells the true story of how his parents met and found love at the end of WWII. To be fair, the story itself is beautiful so he had a lot to work with, but the sensitivity with which he fictionalised their relationship is magical.
Miklos and Lili were Hungarian Holocaust survivors. Despite growing up in nearby towns, they had never known each other before the war. After being rescued from concentration camps, they were each sent to separate Red Cross operated rehabilitation centres in Sweden. Miklos had tuberculosis, no teeth and weighed 29 kilos and Lili was the last survivor out. They had lost everything.
Sick with no money and no family, the single minded Miklos got settled into hospital, started putting on weight and set out to find a wife. The doctors and fellow patients thought he was crazy but he didn’t care. In what has to be admired as the ultimate act of casting the net widely, he wrote letters to 117 female Hungarian Holocaust survivors on record, including Lili. She wrote back and their relationship grew from there. It is these letters upon which the book is based.
There are no words to describe the Robert Benigni-esque way Gardos has penned this story. There is no hate, no politics or anger; just hope, survival and the rehabilitative power of love. There is also just a teeny bit of humour which makes it just all the more endearing.
Gardos writes about his parents with the affection and admiration that only a son could. He tells their story as two people who were trying to impress each other whilst simultaneously coming to terms with their illnesses, fears, grief, lost faith and lost dignity.
This hidden gem will make your heart swell, nose crinkle and eyes well up. It is not too long and not too short/not too easy and not too hard and I loved it from beginning to end.
And that is my 2 cents worth.