This Rebel Heart

Written by Katherine Locke
Review by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

On the eve of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, 18-year-old Csilla works as a typist for a newspaper in Budapest and lives with her aunt in a tiny apartment carved out of her family’s former house near the Duna (Danube) River. Four years earlier, the Communist regime executed her parents as Zionist traitors even though her father was one of their leaders during and after World War II. Under the Nazis, Csilla and her parents survived by magic, diving into the river and living there for months while her aunt endured the camps and the rest of the family perished. Now Csilla and her aunt are secretly planning to flee to Israel, but the outbreak of revolution and an encounter with two handsome young men—a gay student whose lover has also died at the hands of the regime and a gender-shifting angel of death—lead her to reconsider her plans and to believe there may be a place for her in Budapest as an idealistic Hungarian Jew.

This Rebel Heart weaves fantasy into real events with a river that turns to stone, a golem that protects its creators but threatens more harm than good, and the angel of death who fights human attachment and the temptation to change history on behalf of a beloved. The novel draws its immense power from the Jewish philosophical and cultural traditions in which it’s steeped. It portrays Jews in Hungary who have never been accepted as full citizens but seek to prove themselves as equal participants in the story of their chosen land. Csilla’s efforts to understand her father’s principles and actions parallels her own courageous quest to belong and to love both a place and its people. This is a gripping, multilayered tale with appeal to adults as well as teens.