The Book of Fathers

Written by Miklos Vamos (trans. Peter Sherwood)

Spanning 300 years and twelve generations of the Csillag family, Vamos’s saga represents the signs of the zodiac, encompassing what he sees as the story of every Hungarian father. We begin early in the 18th century, with young Kornel Csillag losing his family in the raids between warring factions; the only remnant of his lineage is his memory of the words written by his grandfather, in “the book of fathers.” Kornel and his successors all keep such books, and sometimes the same book is handed down between generations, linking the stories of hardship and struggle in an unstable country.

The other attribute shared by the oldest sons in the Csillag family is the gift of being able to see into the past, and sometimes future, of the family. That gift, of course, has its negative consequences, as some of the Csillags try to avoid their fate or misinterpret what they’ve seen in their visions. Each chapter encompasses a generation, so the plot does jump around, but each chapter also contains an entire world brought to life by Vamos.

The history of Hungary is not a pretty one; there’s nearly-constant violence over land, politics, and religion. As the narrative moves into the 20th century, the world outside of Hungary also comes into view, with wider European, then American, forces involved. The historical snapshots provided by Vamos are well-grounded by his characters as they make their way through their personal stories. To make the book even richer, Vamos used vocabulary and sentence construction contemporary with his characters, so the early chapters read more formally than the later ones. Even in translation, this effort shines through, leaving the reader with twelve unforgettable historical tales of Hungary.