Siege 13

Written by Tamas Dobozy
Review by Cecelia Holland

For six weeks in the winter of 1944-45, the Soviet Army assaulted Budapest, defended by the German and Hungarian armies. Over 800,000 civilians were trapped in the city as it fell. Somewhere in each of the stories in Siege 13, this event rises like a nightmare, often evoked in a cascade of horrible details, a verbal montage, as if the whole people endured a psychotic break.

All the stories are good, gripping, and powerfully written, some set in Budapest but most in Toronto, where an exile community struggles with the new world and forces themselves over and over to reimagine the old. Part of the great craft in these stories is that each expands steadily wider and more various, and then in the very last sentences resolves into an unexpected singularity.

In “Rosewood Queens,” a woman goes from shop to shop, buying only the queens out of chess sets, trying to recapture a lost self, simultaneously making worthless the chess sets she leaves behind. “Portraits of Hungarian Assassins” describes a rootless young man who wanders around implanting false memories in archives and then bringing them to life. The protagonist of “The Encirclement,” a lecturer, is stalked from place to place by a fellow survivor of the Siege, who berates him steadily with accusations of treachery and murder: finally they’re both redeemed by a startling act of empathy. All of these stories come together to create a wonderful book: Bravo, Tamas Dobozy.