When I Was Better
by Rita Bozi
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Pub Date 19 Jun 2022 | Archive Date 28 Aug 2022
Both dark and humorous, the novel's title is taken from a Hungarian saying, "When I was better, I didn't brag." When I Was Better, set in Hungary and Canada, chronicles the twenty-year relationship of István and Teréza, from the Nazi invasion, the Soviet occupation and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 to their reunion in Winnipeg in 1964.
On the cold, winter day István leaves his wife and infant son in western Hungary, Soviet tanks have crushed the Revolution and the spirit of the people. He is of the last of two hundred thousand refugees fleeing to Austria. His wife Teréza, traumatized by the war and violence of the occupation, is left to fend for herself and her baby after an act of desperation forces her husband to abandon his young family and choose self-preservation over duty.
Battered by private betrayals and public humiliations, the young couple learns that laughing at the absurd is a saving grace until a seven-year separation tests their endurance and their love. Moving between Budapest and Winnipeg, the novel explores the moral dilemmas that leave a legacy of secrecy, shame, isolation and relational ruptures. It shows how an autocracy corrupts its citizens by reviling truth and making survival with dignity a transgressive act. It is a moving chronicle of a refugee crisis from a different time.
A Note From the Publisher
"With sharp insight and the gifts of a natural, Bozi's novel brilliantly chronicles the plight of an entire generation of Hungarians through the intimate portrait of two lovers tested by the political and personal betrayals that ripped through the heart of the twentieth century."
-Dennis Bock, author of The Ash Garden
"When I Was Better is a masterfully written historical novel - a coming-of-age story filled with troubled love, totalitarianism and war. The story is rich, intriguing and the characters are very much flesh and blood. Reading it deepens our understanding of oppression, freedom and what turns ordinary people into refugees; a reality we must begin to comprehend on a personal level. History is not just history; this novel allows us an intimate view from a generational context. We need this book."
-Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir, author of The Creator
"When I Was Better is a tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit, of the indistinguishable light of hope in the darkest of times. Tragic but inspiring, ugly yet beautiful. I could not put it down and did not want it to end."
-Lorinda Stewart, author of One Day Closer
"When I Was Better is a remarkable achievement, very engaging, warm and exciting. It lets us in on all of the sadnesses and glories of such times and leaves us hoping that the best in us will survive and prevail."
-Joseph Kertes, author of Last Impressions
"A historical epic that follows the lives of a small family of three up against some of the biggest, most destructive events in Eastern Europe's history...for those who enjoy literary fiction with an authentic representation of the period."
"Set against the backdrop of a world enveloped in the chaos of political unrest, Bozi’s debut is a riveting, complex tale of one couple’s journey of love and endurance...Meticulously researched and brilliantly executed, this is a stunner."
"Historical fiction readers are in for a treat with When I Was Better, a love story set in Hungary and Canada which follows the journey of István and Teréza, who flee the Nazi and Soviet invasions and the Hungarian Revolution to finally make their home in Winnipeg in the 1960s."
-D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
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Average rating from 4 members
The relationship of Istvan and Tereza is threatened by the Nazi invasion of their home country of Hungary, through Soviet invasion and years' long separation. A moving story of the resilience and love of this couple through the years, surviving and persevering against these odds. Uplifting and sensitive, a good read.
When if Vaughn goes to meet his wife Teresa‘s plane it has been seven years since they’ve seen each other and the same amount since he seen his son Zalty (or at least he claims him as his son.) he’s waiting for them to arrive from Budapest hungry and when everyone departs except for them his flowers seem to Wilt and his mind wanders he thinks about everything that brought him to the decision to abandon his wife and baby son and flea the only country in home he new via a Turkish refugee camp then finally Canada. This book was long but so so good! I learned more from this book then I did from history class about the Russians occupying hungry and turkey taking over to the students that started the protest ET see I love books that involve historical events and this is one of the better ones I think the author knew her subject and if she didn’t know it she definitely did great research. If you love historical fiction at its best then you need to read “when I was better.“ I highly recommend it. I received this book from netGally and the publisher and I am leaving this review voluntarily please forgive any mistakes as I am blind and dictate my review but all opinions are definitely my own.
This riveting true story reveals the horrors of living in Hungary from the 40’s into the 60’s. Few historical novels are set in this time and place. Rita Bozi brilliantly shares the traumatic story of her parents and relatives.
The main characters are a young couple, Tereza and Istvan. Both are strong- willed and their personalities often clash. We watch them suffer through Nazi and Russian occupation followed by the Hungarian revolution and further civil unrest. Bozi does a masterful job of characterization, and we literally feel their fears, losses, and desires.
With excellent sensory imagery, we are absorbed into events that transpire. “The place looked like a glorified cafeteria with cold metal tables, drab olive walls and a scuffed floor of checkered tile. Dim, diffuse light made a dreary establishment, with nary a smile to be seen or a laugh to be heard, sadder still.”
Bozi uses an interesting organizational format with chapters flashing back and forth across decades of despair. Her organization certainly provides extra suspense to the lengthy story.
This story obviously required a tremendous amount of research and I applaud Bozi’s dedication to her family’s story. I recommend this book for readers drawn to the pathos of war and domination. Rating 5
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel. Istvan and Tereza are a couple separated in the midst of the Soviet occupation of Hungary and the estranged years they spent trying to find their way back to one another. Rita Bozi uses brilliant imagery in describing the harsh realities of life in a nation that you no longer recognise. Istvan and Tereza are riveting characters, both strong in their will and perseverance to reunite their family once again despite every adversity. I was engrossed through and through. Wonderfully written!
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