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Five great books set in BUDAPEST

26th June 2020

Budapest is the latest place for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Five great books set in Budapest.

Budapest is a prime site for dreams: the East’s exuberant vision of the West, the West’s uneasy hallucination of the East‘ – John Harrison

Here are five books to read that will immerse you in this great European city, across eras and with different characters and genres.

Katalin StreetFive great books set in BUDAPEST by Magda Szabó

In pre-war Budapest three families live side by side on gracious Katalin Street, their lives closely intertwined. A game is played by the four children in which Bálint, the promising son of the Major, invariably chooses Irén Elekes, the headmaster’s dutiful elder daughter, over her younger sister, the scatterbrained Blanka, and little Henriette Held, the daughter of the Jewish dentist.

Their lives are torn apart in 1944 by the German occupation, which only the Elekes family survives intact. The post-war regime relocates them to a cramped Soviet-style apartment and they struggle to come to terms with social and political change, personal loss, and unstated feelings of guilt over the deportation of the Held parents and the death of little Henriette, who had been left in their protection. But the girl survives in a miasmal afterlife, and reappears at key moments as a mute witness to the inescapable power of past events.

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The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Paris, 1937. Andras Lévi, an architecture student, has arrived from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he has promised to deliver to Clara Morgenstern a young widow living in the city. When Andras meets Clara he is drawn deeply into her extraordinary and secret life, just as Europe’s unfolding tragedy sends them both into a state of terrifying uncertainty.

From a remote Hungarian village to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the despair of Carpathian winter to an unimaginable life in forced labour camps and beyond, The Invisible Bridge tells the story of a marriage tested by disaster and of a family, threatened with annihilation, bound by love and history.

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The Corpse with the Ruby Lips by Cathy Ace

Quirky criminology professor Cait Morgan is invited to be a guest lecturer at a Budapest university, and although she’s hesitant to go without her husband and trusted sidekick, Bud, who must stay home to care for his aging parents, she decides to make the month-long trip on her own.

Soon after arriving, one of her new students, Zsofia, pleads with Cait to help her uncover any clues about her grandmother’s unsolved murder, which happened decades ago on the campus of Cait’s own home university in Canada. Cait agrees, but when she is repeatedly hassled by an creepy colleague, and as bizarre details about Zsofia’s family members come to light, Cait is beset by uncertainty.

As she gets closer to the truth, Cait’s investigation puts the powers-that-be on high alert, and her instincts tell her she’s in grave danger. Bud races to Budapest to come to Cait’s side, but will it be too late?

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District VIII (Danube Blues)Five great books set in BUDAPEST by Adam LeBor

Life’s tough for a Gypsy cop in Budapest. The cops don’t trust you because you’re a Gypsy. Your fellow Gypsies, even your own family, shun you because you’re a cop.

The dead, however, don’t care. So when Balthazar Kovacs, a detective in the city’s murder squad, gets a mysterious message on his phone from a blocked number, he gulps down the rest of his morning coffee, grabs his police ID and goes to work. The message has two parts: a photograph and an address. The photograph shows a man lying on his back with his eyes open, half-covered by a blue plastic sheet. The address is 26, Republic Square, the former Communist Party headquarters and once the most feared building in the country. But when Kovacs arrives at Republic Square, the body has gone…

Kovacs’ investigation will take him deep into Budapest’s shadows, an underworld visitors never get to see: the gritty back alleys of District VIII; the people smuggling networks around Keleti Station; the endemic corruption of a country still haunted by the ghosts of history. And when the leads point to the involvement of his brother Gaspar, the city’s most powerful pimp, Kovacs will be forced to choose between the law and family loyalty.

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Mrs Tuesday’s Departure by Suzanne Anderson

When Natalie and Anna, sisters and life-long rivals, hide an abandoned child from the Nazis, their deception resurrects the scars of a star-crossed love triangle that threats their safety and tests the bonds of their loyalty. Hungary’s fragile alliance with Germany ensured that Natalie, a renowned children’s book author, and her family would be safe as the war raged through Europe. But, as the Führer’s desperation grows in the waning years of the conflict, neighbours now become traitors.

Beautiful but troubled Anna, poet and university professor, is losing her tenuous hold on reality, re-igniting a sibling rivalry that began with a poetry contest in childhood. It boils over when Deszo, Anna’s unrequited love, re-enters their lives with a promise of safety.

As the streets of Budapest thrum with the pounding boots of Nazi soldiers, danger creeps to the doorstep and the sisters’ disintegrating relationship threatens to expose the child they are trying to protect. In one night, Anna’s rash behavior destroys their carefully made plans of escape, and Natalie is presented with a desperate decision.

Interwoven with Natalie and Anna’s story, is Mila’s. The abandoned child whose future Natalie lovingly imagines in a story called Mrs. Tuesday’s Departure.

A story that takes on a life of its own fifty years later….

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We hope this has given you a taste for books set in Hungary’s beautiful capital city. Take a look at our database for other titles set here, and please feel free to add more!

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

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750 - 3000 words with strong 'sense of place' theme

Short story, travelogue, or memoir

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Cash prizes totalling £500 / $600 

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Entries close 15th November 2020