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Ten great books set in Budapest

3rd June 2021

Budapest is the latest place for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Ten great books set in Budapest. The city, Hungary’s capital, is bisected by the River Danube. Its 19th-century Chain Bridge connects the hilly Buda district with flat Pest. A funicular runs up Castle Hill to Buda’s Old Town, where the Budapest History Museum traces city life from Roman times onward. Trinity Square is home to 13th-century Matthias Church and the turrets of the Fishermen’s Bastion, which offer sweeping views.

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

Katalin StreetTen 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

The Invisible BridgeTen great books set in Budapest 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.

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?

District VIII (Danube Blues)Ten 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.

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….

Death on the Danube by Jennifer S Alderson

Recent divorcee Lana Hansen needs a break. Her luck has run sour for going on a decade, ever since she got fired from her favorite job as an investigative reporter. When her fresh start in Seattle doesn’t work out as planned, Lana ends up unemployed and penniless on Christmas Eve.

Dotty Thompson, her landlord and the owner of Wanderlust Tours, is also in a tight spot after one of her tour guides ends up in the hospital, leaving her a guide short on Christmas Day. When Dotty offers her a job leading the tour group through Budapest, Hungary, Lana jumps at the chance. It’s the perfect way to ring in the new year and pay her rent!

What starts off as the adventure of a lifetime quickly turns into a nightmare when Carl, her fellow tour guide, is found floating in the Danube River. Was it murder or accidental death? Suspects abound when Lana discovers almost everyone on the tour had a bone to pick with Carl.

But Dotty insists the tour must go on, so Lana finds herself trapped with nine murder suspects. When another guest turns up dead, Lana has to figure out who the killer is before she too ends up floating in the Danube…

Ten great books set in BudapestBudapest Noir by Vilmos Kondor

Set in Budapest 1936. The author brings Budapest to life, in similar vein to Philip Kerr’s Berlin based Bernie Gunther novels. Zsigmond Gordon is a crime journalist with a local newspaper who follows up the murder of a young woman. the police do not seem interested in investigating the crime. Gradually he uncovers a trail to a high class prostitution ring, which involves Member of the Government and well-known businessmen.

Budapest Romance by Rozsa Gaston

When Kati Dunai travels to Budapest to settle her father’s estate, the last thing on her mind is the pursuit of pleasure. She’s a busy international conference planner, her life rooted in Manhattan. But from the moment she sets foot in the city of her father’s youth, it’s pleasure that pursues her. At the thermal bath spa hotel where she’s staying, she meets a Dutchman who reminds her of Béla Dunai, her Hungarian refugee father, who fled his homeland shortly after its 1956 revolution. Jan Klassen is in Budapest to mend from a motorcycle accident. His scars have healed on the outside, but inside, he cannot forgive himself for the consequences his son now lives with forever. Jan has never met a woman like Kati before. Her blend of New England restraint with gypsy spirit captivates him. While Jan introduces Kati to Budapest’s leisurely pace of life, Kati introduces Jan to her own leisurely pace of sensual exploration as their attraction to each other grows over six magical days. When Kati returns to New York, their relationship continues. But it’s not just an ocean that separates them. Kati’s corporate job with frequent travel is the antithesis of the slow-paced pleasures she enjoyed in her father’s favorite city. Which will Kati put first—her new career or her new love; a man who reminds her of the father she never fully understood? And is it the Hungarian pleasure-loving side of herself that she really needs to understand before she can offer her heart to the man who has awakened her to who she truly is?

Prague by Arthur Phillips

A group of American expats en route to adventure, inspiration, or perhaps even history-in-the-making in Prague, somehow get sidetracked and settle instead for the enigmatic city of Budapest. Arriving in Hungary’s capital to pursue his elusive brother, journalist John Price finds himself drawn into the din of Budapest’s nightclubs, a romance with a secretive young diplomat, the table of an elderly cocktail pianist, and the moody company of a young man obsessed with nostalgia, all in a bid to forget the larger questions that arise in a city still pocked with bullet holes from war and crushed rebellion. With humour, intelligence and masterly prose, Phillips captures the character of his contemporaries and brilliantly renders a very weird ‘modern’ city.

Strangers in Budapest by Jessica Keener

Budapest: gorgeous city of secrets, with ties to a shadowy, bloody past. It is to this enigmatic European capital that a young American couple, Annie and Will, move from Boston with their infant son shortly after the fall of the Communist regime. For Annie, it is an effort to escape the ghosts that haunt her past, and Will wants simply to seize the chance to build a new future for his family.

Eight months after their move, their efforts to assimilate are thrown into turmoil when they receive a message from friends in the US asking that they check up on an elderly man, a fiercely independent Jewish American WWII veteran who helped free Hungarian Jews from a Nazi prison camp. They soon learn that the man, Edward Weiss, has come to Hungary to exact revenge on someone he is convinced seduced, married, and then murdered his daughter.

Annie, unable to resist anyone’s call for help, recklessly joins in the old man’s plan to track down his former son-in-law and confront him, while Will, pragmatic and cautious by nature, insists they have nothing to do with Weiss and his vendetta. What Annie does not anticipate is that in helping Edward she will become enmeshed in a dark and deadly conflict that will end in tragedy and a stunning loss of innocence.

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!

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