Title: Fever at Dawn
Author: Péter Gárdos (translated by Liz Szász)
Genre: Fiction (historical/literary)
Release Date: 12th April, 2016
“July 1945. Miklos is a twenty-five-year-old Hungarian who has survived the camps and has been brought to Sweden to convalesce. His doctor has just given him a death sentence — his lungs are filled with fluid and in six months he will be gone. But Miklos has other plans. He didn’t survive the war only to drown from within, and so he wages war on his own fate. He acquires the names of the 117 Hungarian women also recovering in Sweden, and he writes a letter to each of them in his beautiful cursive hand. One of these women, he is sure, will become his wife. In another part of the country, Lili reads his letter and decides to write back. For the next few months, the two engage in a funny, absurd, hopeful epistolary dance. Eventually, they find a way to meet. Based on the true story of Péter Gárdos’s parents, and drawn from their letters, Fever at Dawn is a vibrant, ribald, and unforgettable tale, showing the death-defying power of the human will to live and to love.” (Goodreads)
“My parents, Miklós and Lili, wrote to each other for six months, between September 1945 and February 1946, before they were married in Stockholm.”
As love stories go, this is probably the most beautiful beginning anyone could possibly imagine. Making it even more beautiful is the fact that it’s not imagined – it really happened. It’s these letters that form the basis for the fictionalised account of how the parents of Péter Gárdos first met.
It’s hard to read this and not become caught up in the romance between Miklós and Lili, but there’s enough reality sprinkled throughout the novel to remind the reader that this romance may never have happened at all, and the author may have never been conceived to write the story. Both Miklós and Lili suffer greatly throughout the war and are two of the lucky few to see the end of it, but even once the war was over there were still hurdles to overcome – both physical ones and mental ones; the physical problems were a particular issue for Miklós as the mistreatment of him in the concentration camp has caused lingering health issues.
I think this might be the first post-WWII novel I’ve read that largely focused on the recovery and resettling of Holocaust survivors in other countries such as Sweden. So it was interesting to read about how they were cared for and how they were housed – for example I didn’t know that there were camps built for them to live in temporarily, which I can only imagine must have brought back many unwelcome memories:
“At first sight, their new rehabilitation camp was a shock. Situated in the middle of thick forest, seven kilometres from the town, it was surrounded by a wire fence and, worst of all, a tall chimney rose from its centre.”
I loved the writing in this book and I have so many highlighted sentences through it (it’s an e-book – don’t worry!) that make me smile so much when I look back on them. Despite some of the content it’s a fairly light read and at only 304 pages (depending on the edition you have) it’s a quick read too, which I don’t always find with translations so that was a nice change.
Despite some moments of sadness throughout, really this is a happy sort of book. Because how amazing is it that after so much horror, two people can find each other in an entirely unexpected way and still love? Still have hope they would even find someone to love? And I guess that’s what Fever at Dawn is about in the end – hope. Even if you’re given just six months to live, you should still try to live your life because you never know what’s waiting for you.