Becoming Hungarian

Erika Reich Giles

Publisher: Montiron Press Pages: 278 Price: (paperback) $16.99 ISBN: 9798218336974 Reviewed: July, 2024 Author Website: Visit »

Erika Reich Giles explores her heritage in her compelling memoir, Becoming Hungarian.

In June 1948, two-month-old Giles, together with her parents and older sister, fled Communist rule in Hungary by escaping to Austria where they awaited permission to emigrate to the U.S. as refugees. Three years later, they received political asylum and settled in Billings, Montana, home to a small Hungarian community. Giles grew up uninterested in her ethnicity and sought to maintain a “veneer of Americanness.” She attended Macalester College and became a social worker in Seattle.

A letter Giles receives in 2003 from her 91-year-old father relating certain circumstances of her family’s flight from Hungary sparks her interest in discovering more about her roots. Although she knew the contours of her family’s time in Szombathely, a Hungarian city near the Austrian border where they owned a prosperous iron foundry established by her paternal grandfather, she knew few specifics of their lives once the Iron Curtain fell and the Communists confiscated the factory. In light of her parents’ reluctance to share additional information, Giles travels to Hungary several times to learn more about her family’s past. These trips reveal family secrets while reinforcing her growing affinity toward her homeland.

Giles vividly chronicles her upbringing and increasing fascination with Hungary through detailed anecdotes. By recounting the taunts of a classmate ridiculing the name of her homeland and her embarrassment over needing to translate her mother’s accented English to a store clerk, she bears witness to the challenges one faces, especially when young, when straddling two culturally disparate worlds. Although the narrative occasionally becomes weighed down with overemphasis on her inner thoughts, her reflections will resonate with anyone seeking to come to terms with their ethnicity.

Overall, Becoming Hungarian is a compelling account of one woman’s quest to learn about her family’s past that touches on issues of identity and familial relationships while lending insight into post-WWII Hungary.

BlueInk Heads-Up: This book will be of particular interest to readers of Hungarian descent or those interested in Hungarian history.

Author's Current Residence
Portland, Oregon
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