The question of sticking to principles vs. compromise weighed heavily on the mind of Tamas Dobozy as he wrote his latest collection of thoughtful, haunting and deeply human short stories, “Siege 13.”
The siege of Budapest took place in late 1944 to early 1945, when the Red Army encircled the Hungarian capital, trapping German and Hungarian solders, as well as more than 800,000 civilians. By the time the siege ended, most of the soldiers were dead, along with 38,000 civilians, and untold numbers of women and girls were raped by the Red Army. More often than not, compromise assured survival in a most brutal time. Holding to one’s principles typically meant death, or worse.
A Canadian writer of Hungarian descent, Dobozy’s stories are set both during the siege and in the postwar years that followed. Even though “Siege 13” is a work of fiction, the stories are clearly grounded in the real experiences of those million citizens of besieged Budapest and their descendants.
In Dobozy’s 13th story — “The Ghosts of Budapest and Toronto” — he contemplates the tragic fate of Mária, one rape victim, and the compromises made by her family.
Mária’s husband, sons and nephews live with the shame of their powerlessness to protect her — what Dobozy calls “the second ordeal.” Those who tried to prevent rapes were often killed, but survival was not always that much better, as the men “received so much in the way of injury that the look they gave you afterwards was, for the women, like gazing in the mirror.”
Some in Mária’s family learn of her survival, but keep the truth from her grieving husband. Meanwhile, Mária is also kept from the truth about the survival of her youngest child. Without the lies, Mária’s fragile sanity would have fallen apart, and her youngest child wouldn’t have made it to a better life in the West. Yet somehow, both mother and son sense the truth of each other’s continued existence and experience their lost relationship in ghostly visits.
Given all the compromise, Dobozy’s characters seem unable to make the biggest compromise of all: to just forget the past and move on.
Still, it is their constant reflection on the past that gives them the strength they need to carry the next generation to a more promising future.
Susan Koefod is the author of the Arvo Thorson mystery series and 2013 winner of a McKnight Artist Fellowship for Writers. She lives in St. Paul.