"I’m awed by Christina Shea’s gift for telling a story that continues to matter. Through her central character, Éva, she evokes the hidden lives of countless Jewish children. She juxtaposes Éva’s resilience with a half century of Hungarian history, balancing the impact of loss and courage, of bliss and sorrow.” - Ursula Hegi, author of Stones From The River
“Stringing together scenes from Éva/Anca’s life in episodic fashion, Shea writes beautifully and sharply about the quest for self-determination in the midst of chaos.” - Booklist
An intimate look at the effects of history on an individual life, Christina Shea’s SMUGGLED (Black Cat, a paperback original imprint of Grove/Atlantic, July 5, 2011, $14, 304 pages, ISBN 978-0-8021-7086-6) spans four decades in a woman’s quest to regain her identity from the conflicts that defined her youth.
In the final winter of the Second World War, five-year-old Éva Farkas is hidden by her mother in a flour sack and smuggled across the Hungarian border to Romania. Her aunt and uncle rename her Anca and forbid her to speak Hungarian ever again: “Éva is dead,” she is told.
As years pass, an unquenchable spirit emerges, full of passion and imagination even as a uniquely twisted brand of Communist oppression threatens to derail Anca at every turn. Though pushed to the breaking point, when the pillars of Communism finally crumble, a grown-up Anca returns to Hungary, a country changing as fast as the price of bread, to find a home and reclaim the name her mother gave her.
Told in gleaming, precise prose, SMUGGLED is a fearless and intimate account of one woman’s transformation in the wake of violent history, and a viscerally reflective tale about the basic need for love without claims.
Christina Shea on SMUGGLED
I had just finished my MFA and didn’t have a job. I was twenty-six years old, between boyfriends, and had no burning ideas for a novel. I was too old to live in my parents’ house, or so it seemed to me at the time. When I flash back, I realize I was quite conflicted about being a writer, despite what my heart had always told me. Perhaps because I was born in the JFK era, joining the Peace Corps seemed a perfect opportunity suddenly, no longer just a pipe dream. Just in making the decision to join, I felt a sense of urgency that was new to me.
I served in the first group of volunteers to Eastern Europe. I was stationed in Szeged, Hungary, a city close to the Romanian border. My experience over two years and subsequent years working in the region was an amazing education. This was the end of the Iron Curtain and I was observing firsthand.
In hearing people’s stories throughout my travels in Romania and Hungary, I was captivated by the effects of historical change on individual lives. It was many years before I felt I could write this story and, even so, the novel started off slowly. In wanting to write about 1990 Hungary, I found that I had to convey the past. My reader needed to realize how different things had looked just fifty years earlier.
A few weeks after my arrival in Szeged, I was walking home from the market in my peaceful little neighborhood when I came upon a majestic synagogue. The sight of it took my breath away. It was huge. It was empty. It spoke to me of a previous life. I understood I was living in a ghost town. The decision to span fifty years in the telling of SMUGGLED originated here.
Eva herself was born of my love of heroes. I met so many unsung heroes in Romania and Hungary, and I wanted to give voice to just one. The holocaust, communism, Ceausescu’s oppression and, at last, the historic change that could set her free; this is Eva’s arduous journey through time. Hers is a search for the self that was smuggled away from her at age three. In setting out to write, my intention was to celebrate the depth and complexity of Eva’s identity as the source of her bravery. Of course, a happy ending was in order for SMUGGLED, even though my Hungarian friends think that such is only possible in America.
Black Cat, a paperback original imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
$14.00, 304 pages, ISBN: 978-0-8021-7086-6
Publication Date: July 5, 2011