Burning Horses: A Hungarian Life Turned Upside Down
Based on the memories of a World War II survivor, Burning Horses is the true story of Éva Leopold, a girl who enjoys the privileged life of the upper class in early 20th-century Hungary. Éva has an English governess, she plays piano, she paints, and she attends dances. And when she is older, she marries the handsome Jóska Badics, whose family hails from the minor nobility of Hungary. It is a perfect life until the war begins. Then Éva must find the strength to keep her Jewish parents and her two young daughters safe against the Germans, and later, the Russians.
While at sometimes a compelling narrative of survival during wartime, Burning Horses is not a good novel. Story must come first in any novel, even if it is based on real events and real people. But story does not come first in Burning Horses. The novel reads too much like a family history, with very little dialogue and too much telling about characters, rather than letting the story reveal their personalities. Many details and vignettes do nothing to move the story along, such as detailed descriptions of Éva’s dresses and the inclusion of various family members who play minor roles in Éva’s wartime experiences. The author’s admitted hesitation to write in her mother’s voice and her unwillingness to fill in the gaps in her mother’s memories diminish the power of the story and make it seem choppy. It really is a shame, because this could have been a great novel.