OF LOVE AND WARS by Theresa de Kerpely


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Now in her mid-80s, the author of Arabesque and other novels recalls--at excessive length, but with sporadic vigor and vividness--her life from teenage ""war bride"" in 1918 England to twice-widowed fledgling writer in 1950s California. The first 100 pages focus on Theresa's first marriage to a young diplomat: the birth of four children, with the terrors of ignorance (""coming to grips with the frightening independence of my own body""); the young family's stay in Holland, where Theresa secretly allowed her curiosity (about prostitution, for example) to lead her from conformity; separation from the children during a stint in Bucharest. Then, however, she jumps a decade or so--skipping over the details of her husband's manic-depressive illness, their troubled marriage, his early death, ""the dark ages of my life."" It's now 1937, Theresa has fallen in love with great Hungarian cellist Kerpely (the ""B"" of Arabesque); they marry, settle in a villa near Budapest, joined by Theresa's two daughters but painfully separated from her sons. And the dense center of this memoir covers the years in Hungary through WV II: the bombing raids; the surrounding Nazi horrors (the Kerpelys give refuge to a Jewish composer, disguised as a Catholic priest); the shortages of water, food, fuel; the comic/terrifying arrival of lustful, drunken, often-pathetic Russian soldiers. (A peasant-girl, befriended by the family, cheerfully uses her own body to deflect attention from the less willing Kerpely women.) The postwar years bring an uneasy reunion with eldest son Peter, whose moodiness contrasts with the more giving, loving attentions Of son Eldon--a Hollywood actor who manages to bring the entire family from Hungary to California. It is Eldon, however, who soon commits suicide, having hidden ""the streak of inherited melancholy. . . . Under his sunny, sparkling, life-enhancing outer personality, that drew everyone to him, lay the darkness of a powerful death wish."" And, forced (because of economic hardship) to get on with life, Theresa conquers her grief with conversion to Catholicism and the embrace of her new writing career--finding strength that sees her through the death of beloved ""K."" and her own mastectomy (which she sees as ""a symbolic taking of the veil""). At such moments of spiritual uplift, this autobiography becomes as filmy as some of de Kerpely's fiction. For the most part, however, she tells her story with unsentimental passion and novelistic drama--especially in the WW II/Hungary sequences, which (despite unselective detailing) flare with both terror and humor.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Stein & Day