Fever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos

    Fever at Dawn is based on the true love story of his parents who were both survivors of the Holocaust. As Jewish- Hungarians, they are sent to convalesce after the war in separate hospitals for refugees, in Sweden,  Fresh from Belsen, Miklós is diagnosed with terminal lung disease and given six months to live. He ignores this prognosis and sets out to find a wife by writing to 117 Hungarian strangers who are in temporary hospitals throughout Sweden. Lili, another Belsen survivor, is one of the women who replies to him and their correspondence begins. 

    After his father's death in 1998, Péter Gárdos' mother gave him two bundles of their letters which had been written back in 1945-6. You are always aware when you are reading the book that it is a deeply personal story to the author. An award winning director, he has directed a film version of his novel and there are some strikingly visual scenes within the narrative. He was unaware of how his parents had met up to this point and they had never referred to how they came to survive the concentration camps.  I found the presence of the atrocities which they must have both witnessed ever present, though rarely acknowledged, as it must have been for Miklós and Lili. 
    I enjoyed this book very much. It has a poignancy throughout and the strength of character of the survivors shine through. They are so determined to rise above their past and to continue to survive. The novel has been translated from the Hungarian and there is a simplicity to the phrasing which makes it endearing to the reader, with a wry humour expressed. I particularly liked the poems and snatches of the letters which Miklós sent to Lili.

In short: an uplifting love story

Thanks to Alison Barrow of Transworld Publishers who sent me an advanced copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.


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