A novel about identity set over the course of four decades, from the author of Moira’s Crossing (2000).
In 1943, on a train in Hungary, 5-year-old Éva, daughter of Eszter and György, slips into a flour sack. She steps out in Romania as Anca, her parents now Auntie Kati and Uncle Ilie. Had she stayed in Hungary, she surely would have died during World War II; Eszter dies on her way to Auschwitz and György by his own hand, of a broken heart. Shea does an excellent job of capturing the individuality at the heart of a war that most readers know only from textbook summaries. Kati handles her new charge with a combination of distance and nurturing. The scenes with Miss Pharmacist, Anca’s first friend and her first real betrayer in Romania, add complexity to the adult world without compromising the novel’s focus on young Anca. In her new home in Romania, she pushes back against her name change, “such an ugly name—like glass breaking," but we also see her start to mature. Anca goes on to lead an intense life, maintaining her secret identity for half a century while meeting others who also carry secrets sprung from the changing times: another secret Jew, a closeted homosexual, a back-alley abortion doctor, a fetishist, a power-abusing coach in the burgeoning European table tennis world. Her favorite childhood story is about a prideful princess and a resourceful, self-aware swineherd. Throughout these pages, she becomes both.
A satisfying read.