In this saga by Blanka Raguz, a woman’s life journey evolves against the backdrop of wars-ravaged Croatia and Hungary.
Dealing with an undesirable arranged marriage, she clings to the memory of a past relationship while struggling to survive.
The story begins with protagonist Emma’s birth in 1898. As Emma, of becomes a young woman, her peaceful existence working as a servant at the opulent Trenck’s Castle in Croatia is tainted by the complexities of WWI and a romance, forbidden by class distinction, with Baron Erik Farkas, who is staying there. She later marries a civil clerk who turns out to have a volatile temper. During WWII, her father dies after being tortured, and her brother is killed attempting to escape detention as a POW. Through it all, Emma pines for her true love and endures tragic heartbreak. As chapters move through the seasons with nature’s details setting the stage, “Ballad for Emma,” a violin piece composed by Erik, is a recurring thread linking the central star-crossed lovers.
Raguz offers an emotional drama filled with sacrifices and longings as social and political climates take their toll on the less fortunate and the aristocracy alike. The author’s descriptive writing breathes life into Trenck’s Castle, which becomes an ever-evolving character that transforms from elegance to a monument of decay over the course of the novel.
At times, Raguz’s exposition can seem like a history lesson, and such prolific detailing may become tiresome to those drawn to the human aspects of this genre. Additionally, while Raguz smartly uses Emma’s journal as a means of comfort and solace for the character, sometimes diary entries duplicate narrative detail.
Nonetheless, many will enjoy the story. The heart of this tome is reflected in Emma’s words: “Those who are no longer alive continue to exist as long as they live in our memory.” For those moved by such leanings and who appreciate historical romance, Ballad for Emma should prove a largely engaging read.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.