Author: Christina Shea
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Source: Review copy from publisher
“Sweeping from post–WWII rural Romania to the cosmopolitan Budapest of 1990, Christina Shea’s Smuggled is the story of Eva Farkas, who loses her identity, quite literally, as a young child when she is smuggled in a flour sack across the Hungarian border to escape the Nazis.
Five-year-old Eva is trafficked from Hungary to Romania at the end of the war, arriving in the fictional border town of Crisu, given the name Anca Balaj by her aunt and uncle and instructed never to speak another word of Hungarian again. “Eva is dead,” she is told. As the years pass, Anca proves an unquenchable spirit, with a lust for life even when political forces threaten to derail her at every turn. Time is layered in this quest for self, culminating in the end of the Iron Curtain and Anca’s reclaiming of the name her mother gave her. When Eva returns to Hungary in 1990, a country changing as fast as the price of bread, she meets Martin, an American teacher, and Eva’s lifelong search for family and identity comes full circle as her cross-cultural relationship with Martin deepens through their endeavor to rescue the boy downstairs from abuse.
An intimate look at the effects of history on an individual life, Smuggled is a raw and fearless account of transformation, and a viscerally reflective tale about the basic need for love without claims.”
Eva Farkas had a tough life. During Second World War at age five she was smuggled out of Hungary to Romania in a flour sack. In Romania she was forced to get the new false identity of Anca Balaj and leave everything about Eva Farkas behind. She was supposed to live with her paternal aunt and her husband for a couple of months, until her parents came for her, but they never came, her mother was capture in Hungary and later died in the train that was transporting her to a concentration camp and her father killed himself.
Now Anca/Eva has a new identity, new language, new country, new culture and a new family. She grew up with her aunt and uncle as normal as was possible under her circumstances and the circumstances of the time. Anca learned that she had to study very hard to become somebody in a communist country. She excelled in school and was selected to go to the university and from there on she tried to do her best with what she was given in life, good or bad without matter. But Anca always felt as an intruder in a country that wasn’t hers, always worrying that somebody would find out of her illegal documents or even worst discover that she was a Jew passing as Christian.
Smuggled was my first book by Christina Shea. I really didn’t know what to expect from it and to be honest I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did.
We met Eva/Anca as a very young child in the early 1940s and see her grow page by page until she is a woman of 50 in the 1990s. I liked that Eva/Anca really felt like child when she was one. Her behavior and reasoning was the expected from a young girl, and when the years start to pass and Eva/Anca is growing we see the normal changes time has on a person, her personality evolves and adapts making the changes felt real and believable.
Eva/Anca has lived through so many difficult situations. When you think life is settling for her, something happens and changes her life drastically, this happens more than once. She just experiences glimpses of happiness throughout her life. Eva/Anca is living during tough times, the Romania after Second World War is no a nice place to be. The communism under the regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu was one of the worst in the whole world and she lived through those times.
Eva/Anca was always looking for that place call home; even though she has been “the Romanian Anca” for the majority of her life she was never able to really grasp that identity, she felt she didn’t belonged anywhere and after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 she seizes the opportunity to return to Hungary to discover her roots.
I loved her amazement when entering Hungary, how she finds everything so enticing and new. Through her eyes I could feel her awe at discovering new things. Simple things for us now days as pavement roads, bananas or a purse with the coke brand imprinted on it, but for her, a refugee who lived all her life in a impoverished communist country all those new things are magical and alluring.
The secondary characters are shadows compare to her, they came to her life for a reason, sometimes good ones sometimes not so much. Their interactions made her the woman she becomes, but none of them really shines in the story, even tough I would have liked to learn more about what happened to some of them in the future.
I had a little problem with the pace, sometimes “years” drag a long for a while, when others flew with barely a mention. It also took me a little bit to get into it, this was because at the beginning the book is told from different points of view but sometimes it was not easy to differentiate when there was a change and I was seeing a new character’s POV. This may be because I read an ARC and the final book is edited better… I hope that is the case.
I really like Smuggled, notwithstanding that the end is a satisfying one this is not a nice book, definitely not one of those love in the clouds books, is harsh and real, set in times that make me feel glad and lucky I was born when and where I was born. Wars are not pretty and seeing all the “side effects” a war has on a society years after is finished would make you been thankful for your current life.
I recommend Smuggled to readers with interest in historical fiction and adult fiction. I hope to read more books by Christina Shea.
My verdict: 4 Paws
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