STRANGERS IN BU­DAPEST

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight History/Historical -

In Jes­sica Keener’s Strangers in Bu­dapest, it’s 1995, and the tech bub­ble is swelling. The Wall Street Jour­nal is re­port­ing un­prece­dented op­por­tu­nity in East­ern Europe, and three Amer­i­cans—an­nie, Will, and their 4-mon­thold, newly adopted son, Leo—ride that tide of op­ti­mism from sub­ur­ban Mas­sachusetts to Hun­gary. Soon, they’ll dis­cover what Hun­gar­i­ans have al­ways known: be­hind the city’s “pre­served ex­te­rior hid[es] a darker, run­down in­te­rior—beauty and ug­li­ness co­ex­ist­ing, each one vy­ing for dom­i­nance.”

Will is chas­ing an en­tre­pre­neur­ial dream, and An­nie is fol­low­ing along, happy to es­cape the pry­ing eyes of their adop­tion agency for the chance to be a reg­u­lar fam­ily. But af­ter sev­eral months in Bu­dapest, they’re spin­ning their wheels. Each is furtively cast­ing about for some­thing to fill the grow­ing void when a let­ter from old neigh­bors— them­selves Hun­gar­i­ans—send them to a small apart­ment to check on Ed­ward Weiss, an el­derly Amer­i­can ex-pat who’s clearly in poor health but in­sists that no one should know he’s there. Will’s dis­mis­sive, but An­nie can’t let this haunted man go.

An­nie’s a run­ner—lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively. As she cir­cum­nav­i­gates Bu­dapest, she’s also cir­cling a past she’d like to leave be­hind. All that’s un­re­solved inside her pulls her to­ward other peo­ple’s tragedies like iron fil­ings to a mag­net, the “pull of ‘help­ing’ draw­ing her.” And there are plenty of peo­ple for her to snag against. Bu­dapest’s an omi­nous, at­mo­spheric city that re­sists— for­eign devel­op­ment, easy com­mu­ni­ca­tion, gen­tri­fi­ca­tion—all the can-do, pro­gres­sive in­sis­tence and pos­i­tive fa­cades of the vis­it­ing Amer­i­cans.

In Keener’s Strangers in Bu­dapest, the city is as much a char­ac­ter as any, and as An­nie and oth­ers be­gin to cave un­der it’s crum­bling weight, what’s re­vealed where East meets West is a story about the im­pla­ca­bil­ity of the past—present, progress, and de­nials not­with­stand­ing.

Jes­sica Keener, Al­go­nquin (NOVEM­BER) Hard­cover $26.95 (352pp), 978-1-61620-497-6

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