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The Storyteller: Memory, Secrets, Magic and Lies

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Born in 1889, Anna Porter's grandfather, Vili Rácz, was a patriot and an Olympic athlete, a magician and a lawyer, a publisher and a prisoner, a philanderer and a devoted family man. On long walks through the once-grand European capital of Budapest, in confidences whispered in splendid fin-de-siècle coffeehouses, Vili shared his stories of heroes and hardships, war and rev Born in 1889, Anna Porter's grandfather, Vili Rácz, was a patriot and an Olympic athlete, a magician and a lawyer, a publisher and a prisoner, a philanderer and a devoted family man. On long walks through the once-grand European capital of Budapest, in confidences whispered in splendid fin-de-siècle coffeehouses, Vili shared his stories of heroes and hardships, war and revolution. Vili's stories are the foundation of this vivid memoir, which follows Anna and her family from the tumultuous years of the Second World War to the Hungarian Revolution and the family's exile to New Zealand. Through young Anna's eyes, we accompany her to prison with her mother, see her beloved Vili unjustly sentenced to hard labour, and witness unspeakable human loss in the streets of Budapest during the failed uprising against the Communists. As Anna grows up in the beautiful but beleaguered city, her grandfather's stories of strife and survival give her a personal sense of history and of values, in a country the world seems to have forgotten.


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Born in 1889, Anna Porter's grandfather, Vili Rácz, was a patriot and an Olympic athlete, a magician and a lawyer, a publisher and a prisoner, a philanderer and a devoted family man. On long walks through the once-grand European capital of Budapest, in confidences whispered in splendid fin-de-siècle coffeehouses, Vili shared his stories of heroes and hardships, war and rev Born in 1889, Anna Porter's grandfather, Vili Rácz, was a patriot and an Olympic athlete, a magician and a lawyer, a publisher and a prisoner, a philanderer and a devoted family man. On long walks through the once-grand European capital of Budapest, in confidences whispered in splendid fin-de-siècle coffeehouses, Vili shared his stories of heroes and hardships, war and revolution. Vili's stories are the foundation of this vivid memoir, which follows Anna and her family from the tumultuous years of the Second World War to the Hungarian Revolution and the family's exile to New Zealand. Through young Anna's eyes, we accompany her to prison with her mother, see her beloved Vili unjustly sentenced to hard labour, and witness unspeakable human loss in the streets of Budapest during the failed uprising against the Communists. As Anna grows up in the beautiful but beleaguered city, her grandfather's stories of strife and survival give her a personal sense of history and of values, in a country the world seems to have forgotten.

30 review for The Storyteller: Memory, Secrets, Magic and Lies

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I totally loved this book. It enthralled me from beginning to tnd. You learn Hungarian history through marvelous stories. You learn the value of storytelling. I feel that a book like this teaches the reader how it was to live in Hungary through the historical events. I am glad I read this book immediately after:Niki: The Story of a Dog. You get a very Kafkaesque view of life. The total absurdity of life. In one book the main character is Communist, while in the other a wealthy landowning aristoc I totally loved this book. It enthralled me from beginning to tnd. You learn Hungarian history through marvelous stories. You learn the value of storytelling. I feel that a book like this teaches the reader how it was to live in Hungary through the historical events. I am glad I read this book immediately after:Niki: The Story of a Dog. You get a very Kafkaesque view of life. The total absurdity of life. In one book the main character is Communist, while in the other a wealthy landowning aristocrat. Both end up in prison for absurd reasons. Both were so utterly destroyed by this experience. Anothe important issue is how do you raise a child in such times, when daily life demands that you lie. Nothing is what it seems. The reader comes to understand how such a life might feel. And the women - well they are marvelous. Strong. And Vili, the author's grandfather, you will love him too. As I have shown below, the writing is marvelous. Through page 176: Here is another little taste of the writing: "I was eight years old and trying to improve my fencing technique in the basement of the old Piarist school, where the priests weren't allowed to teach real school anymore, although they were allowed to pray as long as they didn't mention the government in their prayers." "My grandfather use to come and meet me at the end of fencing class on his way home from the button factory. Though he was up earlier than I was and he had been lifting heavy stuff all day, he showed no signs of tiredness. He bounced down the stairs, three at a time, not even holding on to the rail as I did, his patched leather gloves hanging out of his pocket, his light wool coat flapping open like a cape. He never bothered to button up, even on the coldest days. He hadn't bought working clothes for the factory. He wore his old suits. 'What's the sense of saving them?' he'd remonstrate with my grandmother. 'When all this is over, they'll be too old-fashioned to wear. '" "By "all this" he meant the communist government, but he was too careful to say that out loud." Look at the cover carefully - there you see grandfather and granddaughter, he in his Hussar uniform! Great photos. I so enjoy reading a hardcover book. I bought it second-hand. Hovever there is no map so you must get out your atlas. I still love it. Through page 76: And it is funny. Two quotes from page 76 follow: "My grandmother stood up quickly and marched out of the bedroom without putting on her blue dressing gown. Her nightgown was pink and almost transparent. I was really glad she wore underpants." "Leah's husband was wearing gis grey overcoat unbuttoned and stood with his back to the fireplace as if to warm himself, although I knew no one had set the fire yet. My mother has said he wasn't very bright." I will not say what has caused the family upproar. The lines are so absolutely marvelous.... Now I am not going to say anymore. I am just going to sit back and suck up the story of this family living in Hungary during tumultuous times. Through page 39: I absolutely adore the text. Look at the title of this book: The Storyteller: Memory, Secrets, Magic and Lies. You get exactly that! The author, as well as her grandfather Vili, have the knack for telling stories, ie telling about their lives so they become magical tales, revealing secrets, wonderful and ghastly times, magic and lies. I could quote any paragraph and get you to drool for more. Here is about the author's birth, a good place to start: "I was born during the German occupation of Hungary. The British and the Americans were bombing Budapest." "My grandfather had been trying to round up nurses to attend to my mother in the emergency wing of the Frigyesi Hospital. The nurses were too busy with the wounded and the dying to pay attention to a young girl's first birth. My mother was barely seventeen and no one had bothered to tell her about childbirth. It had taken her quite a while to figure out how people got pregnant, and that was shocking enough without the pain that followed. Luckily, Vili had the brilliant idea to knock her out with morphine and extract me howling into the wartorn world." Here, the author's mother is telling her daughter about how she met her father: "'I want to tell you about your father,' she said." "There was no point in telling her I didn't want to hear, so I looked up at her, thinking that if only she would hurry up we could get into the circus where the laughter was getting lounder." "'There use to be boxes - balconies where whole families sat,' she continued more slowly than I wanted. 'Istvàn was in the next balcony. He had a few friends with him. All, except your father, were in uniform. He was very dashing with his grey felt hat and kid gloves, his striped trousers and the way he came over and kissed Grandma's hand, then Sari's and Leah's (her sisters), and last mine. At sixteen, not many men kiss your hand. He bent right over mine and looked at me the way men use to look at my sisters, not the way anyone had looked at me before......'" Wait till you read about the sisters. History and biogarphy and wonderful writing and dialogue. Just my cup of tea. First few pages: Some authors make you believe your are reading a fairy tale, when it is in fact about real people. In their blood they are storytellers. Here follows a quote from page 18 about Petronella,the paternal grandmother of the author's grandfather. The person speaking is the mother of the author's grandfather. She is speaking to her son about his grandmother: "The marble of the pool, she told him, had come from the Carpathian Mountains, near his ancestral home. It had been a gift for his grandmother Petronella Racz. She had been a tiny woman, but fearless. It was Petronella who had taught Vili's father, György, to fence. She had been fast on her feet, quick with her blade, and her eyes never wavered. She rode a horse like a man. Her dark hair fanned out behind her, her skirts rode up to her knees, she held the horse so tight between her legs that she could leg go of the reins and still control him. It is how Hungarian ride, effortless, light, always in control." I love it. History and learning about different cultures, couldn't be more entertaining. So far so good.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Derrick Grose

    Anna Porter reveals a very personal history of Hungary as it is revealed through the stories and lives of her grandfather, her mother, herself and other family members. She reflects on the tragedies in the struggle to preserve Hungarian identity through the rise and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, two World Wars and the Cold War. It is fascinating to read a consciously subjective account of how people experienced, coped with and interpreted the events of history.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Riley Haas

    This is a memoir by a Hungarian-Canadian about her Grandfather and her early life in Hungary. Her Grandfather was full of stories about their family and Hungary. Though these stories are probably quite compelling for some people, particularly Hungarians but also anyone who enjoys a good yarn, I had trouble caring. I am somebody who is much more interested in truthful history than in imagined history. I understand why people would prefer the latter, but I do not. And so I struggled with the first This is a memoir by a Hungarian-Canadian about her Grandfather and her early life in Hungary. Her Grandfather was full of stories about their family and Hungary. Though these stories are probably quite compelling for some people, particularly Hungarians but also anyone who enjoys a good yarn, I had trouble caring. I am somebody who is much more interested in truthful history than in imagined history. I understand why people would prefer the latter, but I do not. And so I struggled with the first 100 or so pages of this book. For me, where the book becomes worth reading and rather incredible is when we get to the author's memories of Soviet Hungary and the Hungarian Revolution. This is as close a view to that time as I've ever had, and it's rather incredible. Seeing things from the child's perspective just emphasizes even more the folly of totalitarianism. It's great stuff. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to get there and I'm not sure it's worth the slog unless you of Hungarian descent or if you have an interest in Hungary and its history (as told through the perhaps fantastical memory of someone).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dorothy

    This memoir by Anna Porter of Key Porter Books was well written and extremely informative about the world she lived in both in WWII and post war years in Hungary. I wonder about the total veracity of the conversation and memories details within the book as the conversations between she and her grandfather are very detailed. He is a man of contradictions but a central part of her world. I find much in common with her relationship with her grandfather and the larger than life personality that he s This memoir by Anna Porter of Key Porter Books was well written and extremely informative about the world she lived in both in WWII and post war years in Hungary. I wonder about the total veracity of the conversation and memories details within the book as the conversations between she and her grandfather are very detailed. He is a man of contradictions but a central part of her world. I find much in common with her relationship with her grandfather and the larger than life personality that he surrounds her with and am appalled by what the people in her country went through. An interesting read but one that didn't prove impossible to put down.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Peggy Walt

    Loved reading this book by Anna Porter, Canadian publisher/author. I've met her a few times over the years at ACP meetings, and she always seemed a no nonsense, practical sort of person. Having now read what she lived through as a child in Hungary, it's no wonder she doesn't suffer fools gladly. I learned a lot about Hungarian history (although sometimes got confused) and her storyteller grandfather is a once in a generation character. Highly recommended. Loved reading this book by Anna Porter, Canadian publisher/author. I've met her a few times over the years at ACP meetings, and she always seemed a no nonsense, practical sort of person. Having now read what she lived through as a child in Hungary, it's no wonder she doesn't suffer fools gladly. I learned a lot about Hungarian history (although sometimes got confused) and her storyteller grandfather is a once in a generation character. Highly recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lindasp

    A great way to learn Hungarian history in story-telling form and Anna's grandfather, Vili, was a very talented story teller. I was fascinated by what the family went through from WWII, the Revolution and then their exile to New Zealand. I can hardly imagine what Anna did even as a young child in that situation. A great way to learn Hungarian history in story-telling form and Anna's grandfather, Vili, was a very talented story teller. I was fascinated by what the family went through from WWII, the Revolution and then their exile to New Zealand. I can hardly imagine what Anna did even as a young child in that situation.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Candace

    Anna Porter takes the reader back into the lives of those living through the Nazi and Soviet occupation of Hungary. She tells her story through narrative, historical reference and through the marvelous tales she heard from her beloved Grandfather, Vili. Her childhood voice is truly authentic, and her writing is engaging.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cadillacrazy

    This book tells the story of the hungarin people and the destruction that war brings through the eyes of a proud old man(the storyteller) and his granddaughter (the book writer). It is well-written, and interesting.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Robt.

    I seem to have read a Canadian paperback edition not pictured here.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    I really enjoyed this one - her grandfather's storytelling skills seem to have been passed on. I really enjoyed this one - her grandfather's storytelling skills seem to have been passed on.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Laural Griffen

  12. 5 out of 5

    Donna McCarvill

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jeannie

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cédric

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia Mailhot-Bryant

  16. 5 out of 5

    R

  17. 5 out of 5

    Martine

  18. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

  19. 5 out of 5

    Doreen

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

  21. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  22. 5 out of 5

    Beáta

  23. 4 out of 5

    Klara Simcikova

  24. 4 out of 5

    Wintergreen

  25. 5 out of 5

    cbw

  26. 5 out of 5

    Itavanjaka

  27. 5 out of 5

    Giselle Kennedy

  28. 4 out of 5

    Katya Kasha

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

  30. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Pavlis

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