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Castles Burning a Childs Life In War

Castles Burning: A Child's Life in War - Magda Denes Dr. Magda Dénes, a Psychoanalyst and Psychotherapist practicing in NY, passed away suddenly at the end of 1996, aged 62. Her autobiographical Castles Burning was due to be published a couple of months later.The book begins in 1939 in Budapest, as Magda’s father leaves for the US and abandons his family. They were a wealthy Jewish family of four. The narration advances fast onto March 1944 when the Nazis, who were already losing the war, occupied the city to prevent Hungary from changing sides. Castles Burning is then a story of loss and survival during the Holocaust and the postwar occupation by the Russian troops. It is told in a very direct first person manner by Magda the child (the subtitle is “A Child’s Life in War”) although Denes the adult wrote it decades later. Hungary was late at persecuting its large Jewish population. And when it did, it sacrificed first the population living in the countryside and then those living in the city, protecting them to a certain extent. This they did by building up a wall that circumscribed them in the Jewish quarter in Pest and creating a formal ghetto. In theory the Budapest ghetto was to be more respected than similar arrangements organized in other Nazi-occupied European cities. In theory.Another important safety center was constituted by the Swiss Consul, Carl Lutz, in the Glass House, originally a glass factory that stood outside and far from the ghetto, closer to the river. Many Jews found shelter there. It also became the main quarters from which the resistance Jewish Youth, with a strong Zionist (and Hashomer) support, organized its courageous underground force. Magda’s brother Iván took a very active role in this resistance. Apart from providing temporary shelter, the Glass House became a factory for forging documents. Many lives were saved. But not Ivan’s own.Visiting Budapest recently, I set out to find this Glass House. It meant a walk out of the well-trodden tourist paths. I was surprised because the building looked an abandoned warehouse. No monument has been made out of it. The detour was certainly worthwhile when I recognized later that it was there that a great part of the story of this book took place. Reading the images emerging from its pages became a great deal more real.Here is the photo I took.At the time, however, it was an astounding building because its bare walls and profusion of glass was seen as the epitome of modernity. This is better captured by this photo from the early 1930s.The only vestige I could find at this site of its being a monument was this plaque, which I chose to photograph, although I did not know then the names commemorated. Imagine my surprise when browsing through my photo album I now recognize that Iván Dénes, Magda’s heroic but ill-fated brother, is listed on top of the memorial I recorded for my keeps.The book is often compared to the Anne Frank’s Diary, as both are a child’s vision of the atrocities of the Holocaust. I read Frank’s testimony as a teenager and I cannot therefore venture deeper into a comparison, but two differences jump out immediately. Anne did not survive while Magda did. And Anna’s is a Diary and therefore contemporary to the events recorded, while Magda’s account has the vantage point and possibly distorted vision of a Memory.Apart from the testimonial value of a period of history that we should not forget, what is most striking about this book is its total absence of sentimentality. This is the result of the very vivid voice of this five – becoming ten – year old narrator. Little Magda comes across as a very smart, brave, outspoken and lucid child. Adversity awakens anger in her, rather than desperation. She is lucky for this. The former invites to fight and increase the chances of survival, while the latter can easily bring its own demise. It is this affirmed anger that leads her to vote not to commit suicide when the whole family considers this alternative.The vividness and directness, created by a great deal of dialogue, gives a very agile pace to the reading but it also invites to meditate whether memories five decades old can be so crystal clear and so complete. This is certainly very different from Nabokov’s [b:Speak, Memory|30594|Speak, Memory|Vladimir Nabokov|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1346107008s/30594.jpg|2540547] in which the revived impressions are clothed in a redolent tone more suitable to the genre. The girl Magda that Dr Denes revives is not a very likeable girl, neither then nor now. At that time her insolence and cheekiness got on peoples' already tightly strung nerves. And now, although her impertinence can be seen as constituting her charm, she also seems to be misplacing and directing her anger too much against those close to her, in particular against her mother Margit. Magda expected all the time an absolutely impeccable behavior from her mother, in particular towards Magda herself. I found this self-centeredness at times very unpleasant and unfair, and made me feel I wanted to hear Margit’s account and her own suffering as well.It is not surprising then that this is the account of a Psychoanalyst, or that that angry and egotistical child should become such a Therapist.

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