Synopsis: The book follows the story of three generation of women from 1900 through 1970, seven decades of wars and hardship. At the turn of the century, an era of strict moral codes, Angela falls in love with a priest who abandons her and her unborn child. She overcomes rejection and misfortunes, including losing her right hand, and brings up her daughter, exuberant, stubborn Ilonka. In spite of the stigma of her illegitimate birth, the girl finds happiness in love and marriage, raising five children, among them Sarika, independent and high-spirited, much like herself. With the outbreak of WWII, however, their lives change drastically, followed by equally hard times as the country falls under Soviet-style dictatorship. When an attempt to free the country in 1956 fails and people start to flee retributions, Sarika and her brothers join the exodus to the West. With her family torn apart Ilonka never recovers her strength.
Years of fear and political pressures hasten her descend into depression, and when she loses her husband too, she finally gives up. Alone and completely on her own, Sarika finds her way to America, and begins a new life full of opportunities and most importantly, free of fear.
My Thoughts: While I studied Russia and the Soviet Union extensively during both my undergraduate and graduate careers, I really don't know much about the history of Hungary. I think that is part of why this book appealed to me so much. I'm also really drawn to stories about women who overcome a lot of obstacles so this book was right up my alley.
Degrees of Courage is almost two separate books. Part of the book is the story of the Zachar family and the other part is the history of Hungary between 1900-1970. It was really interesting to read about the historical events going on in Hungary and then seeing how they affected the characters in the story. I know the author grew up in Hungary and lived through many of the events described in the book but it still seemed as though she must have done a lot of research because the historical parts were so detailed.
I have to say that Ilonka was my favorite character. I loved her strength and her outspokenness as well as her dedication to her family. She wasn't perfect by any means but she survived so much; I can't even imagine the struggles she endured during World War II and the Soviet occupation. There were a lot of characters in this book because it seemed that everyone had a lot of family ties. It was sometimes hard to keep track of who everyone was and how they were related to the main characters but I don't think it affected the story too much.
My only complaint about this book was that it seemed really long. As I said above, it was very detailed but at times it felt like there was just a little too much detail. Besides that, I enjoyed this book a great deal. It's a wonderful story of love and family as well as being a great history of modern Hungary. 3 stars.
I received this book from HFVBT in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author:
As a young woman, author Shari Vester fled her native Hungary in 1956 after the defeat of a patriotic uprising against the country's Soviet-dictated regime. She was granted asylum in the United States to begin a new life. After a year living in New York she moved to Los Angeles, married, and worked as an insurance account manager. Recently retired, she and her husband relocated in the Palm Spring area, where she finally found time to write. Her debut novel, Degrees of Courage, is a historical fiction drawn on her family history. It paints a sharp contrast between life as we know it in America, versus a time and place where today's "Let it be" mentality was simply impossible.
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