Éva Farkas is only five when her Jewish mother ties her in a flour sack and smuggles her across the border to an aunt in Romania in the midst of the Second World War. There she is renamed “Anca” and, with a quick course in Romanian and Catholicism, taught to forget her Hungarian and Jewish roots. Confused, terrified, and missing her mother, she stays close to home rather than slip up in front of the neighbors.
After the war, she longs to find her mother but can’t ask questions in the newly-Communist country without revealing her true identity. From college, where she discovers first love with a childhood friend from Hungary, to adulthood, where she becomes a competitive Ping-Pong player, she is under scrutiny from the Communist League. At a time when everyone watches their neighbors, she continues to hide her Hungarian identity, papers tucked within an equally forbidden Bible. It isn’t until the Iron Curtain falls that she works up the courage to return to Hungary and reclaim Éva.
Smuggled surprised me. As a story, it meandered from one episode in Anca’s life to another, most of them dramatic, but few particularly life-changing. But as a novel it was arresting: a character study, but of a character so lost and searching that you can’t help but be caught up in the search along with her. Wrought with careful and sometimes unusual turns of phrase, it was an enjoyable read, despite the often-sad events Anca stumbles past. Without realizing it, I flew through this book, crossing my fingers for a satisfying end to Anca’s story. A well-written and absorbing novel.