Berlin-based journalist Adorján’s debut examines why and how her grandparents committed suicide together, decades after they survived the Holocaust.
In life, Vera and Pista refused to discuss how Pista lived through his time in Mauthausen, the Nazi concentration camp notorious for its vast labor complex, or how Vera obtained the forged papers that allowed her to evade capture and give birth to Adorján’s father in a proper hospital. In her intrepid investigation, the author learned what she could from speaking to relatives and interviewing the few friends her grandparents left behind, elderly women who corroborated that her grandparents kept the world at arm’s length. Vera was convinced that no one but Pista loved her, and Pista was dependent on Vera in all practical affairs. Recollections from Adorján’s childhood depict a handsome, cultured couple who dressed impeccably and smoked incessantly. The essence of the grandparents’ relationship surfaces in their final-day preparations, which the author vividly imagines and intersperses throughout the book: Vera cleaning the house and wrapping gifts to bequeath to relatives, checking in periodically on Pista, who had been ill for some time. Between snoozing on the sofa and smoking cigarillos, he emptied pill capsules for consumption later. Final Exit, the 1991 bestseller about euthanasia, shaped the plan to ingest a lethal dosage of painkillers for which Pista, a former surgeon, wrote a prescription. However, Adorján suspects that her grandparents resolved never to live apart when they were still young. Her personal revelations make up for her inability to completely surmount the privacy her grandparents meticulously guarded. Feeling cheated out of the Jewish legacy her grandparents ignored once they were safe in Denmark, Adorján explores her Jewish identity by trying JDate, which proves unsuccessful, and traveling to Israel, where she found peace among the legions of Jews she had been seeking all along.
In the process of assimilating disparate facts into a poignant and elegant story, Adorján exposes her own hopes and fears, an added bonus.