THE PAPER BRIDGE: A Return to Budapest by Monica Porter

THE PAPER BRIDGE: A Return to Budapest

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When her son was born (in 1978) with a birthmark found only in Magyar bloodlines, freelance journalist Porter--a child-refugee from 1956 Hungary--decided to confront the question of identity (""Am I still a Hungarian, despite everything?""); and in 1981 she re-visited her homeland, little son Adam in tow, for the first time. She looked in on hordes of old relatives and family friends. She walked around Budapest, where her mother (who also returned to Hungary for the visit) was once a popular actress-singer. She went to the theater, to a rock 'n' roll dance at Budapest Technical University, to concerts, to museums, to the Turkish baths, to a would-be-bourgeois village (""For God's sake, what had become of the genuine, rustic, peasant existence?""). And, mixed in with Porter's impressions from her one-month stay, are interviews with three fellow refugees in England and (the book's best section) memories of adolescence in New York's ""Little Hungary"" neighborhood. As personal roots-seeking drama, however, this is a vague and undramatic chronicle: aside from some revelations by Porter's mother (who hid Jews during the war and was grilled by the Nazis), there's no real development--just the inevitable conclusion that ""a refugee will always be a refugee."" And Porter's comments on today's Hungary--resigned to compromise, content because well-fed--are blandly familiar, platitudinous. (""In the West, the music of the young is a reflection of their lifestyle and values. In Hungary, it is a reflection of their unattainable dreams."") Still, despite prose that often strains limply for cuteness or eloquence, some of the family moments--bringing English cigarettes to an elderly woman, coaxing a smile from a cousin's prospective husband (scorned by the oppressive, extended family)--are affecting; and, simply as travelogue, the Budapest-and-environs tour offers some up-to-date sightseeing pleasure.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1982
Publisher: Charles River