A veteran writer and editor recalls his youthful, quixotic car trip to Budapest to deliver medical relief supplies during the brief Hungarian uprising against the Soviets in the fall of 1956.
A novelist, historian and memoirist who has written gracefully about a range of subjects (Ulysses S. Grant, 2004; Man to Man: Surviving Prostate Cancer, 1996; etc.), Korda turns his focus on the events of October and November 1956, when, in his view, the first cracks appeared in the Iron Curtain. Korda takes an unusual approach here: Some of his story is simply a swift summary of the Hungarian Revolution (admittedly adapted from more comprehensive histories); and some of it is his memoir of a sort of loopy, larkish car trip he and some similarly idealistic and foolish friends from England took into Hungary at the very moment tens of thousands of Soviet tanks were rolling into the country to squash the tiny (and unlikely) flower of freedom that was beginning to bloom amid Communist oppression. Korda makes a couple of key points. First, the brutality of the Soviet response cured many European and American leftists of their Communist sympathies. Second, the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, which was occurring at the same time, snuffed out the small flame of Hungarian hope that the United States would intervene in their country to oppose the Soviets. The author’s understandable anti-USSR attitude is evident throughout, even in his descriptions of Soviet diplomats with their bullet heads, gold teeth and shapeless, colorless suits. The most gripping parts of his story are, unsurprisingly, the personal ones. He sees corpses in the street, hears artillery shells land nearby, watches buildings implode, faces unsmiling Soviet tank officers who point their weapons at him. Chastened and frightened, he and his friends eventually depart the country in a British convoy.
A harrowing and horrifying tale told in spare and poignant prose—sometimes bitter, sometimes ironic, always powerful.