Enemies of the People, ****

A glimpse behind the Iron Curtain.


I have to thank Stephen Colbert of the The Colbert Report for this book. Colbert occasionally has authors or members of the film industry as guests on his show, and I might be the only person I know who loves the part when he brings on guests. Especially authors.

Reading by candlelight feels so romantic and also old-school at the same time.

When Kati Marton came on the The Colbert Report, she talked about her parents Endre and Ilona Marton, Hungarian journalists for the Associated Press who were under constant surveillance from the Hungarian AVO (a sort of Communist secret police). She learned most of the information about her parents’ life in Hungary not from her own experiences but from the meticulous AVO file that was kept about them.

Kati Marton’s book is obviously well-researched. Apart from the files, she has visited numerous sources and relevant sites in Hungary as well as consulting her father’s published prison memoir and her mother’s journal. She also obtained a classified FBI file regarding her parents through the Freedom of Information Act. Not only is this research present in nearly every detail of her writing, but she manages to take what must have been a mountain of data and make it into something personal.

Kati Marton does this in large part by adding her own naive childhood memories of the time. Most of this is useful in helping the reader distinguish the mood of the period and the great care her parents took in shielding their children from pain.

Rather than remain the absent observer, which would have seemed absurdly unrealistic in this case, Kati Marton confesses her fears of uncovering horrors in her past. She also constantly asks herself if she would have stood up to the regime was well as her parents, whether she would have made the same choices had she been born a few decades earlier. Still, she is careful to preserve the fact that this story is about her parents, and she walks the fine line between reporter and loving daughter with grace.

Apart from the already-engaging personal feel of this chronicle, Kati Marton’s book is beyond valuable from a historian’s standpoint as well. It’s an indispensable window into that world as told by someone who was actually there and who saw first-hand the results of provoking (however innocently) the wrath of Communist officials. Marton has the detailed nature of these files to thank for this (for they include everything from details about Endre and Ilona’s marital problems to their mundane daily errands).

Enemies of the People is a fascinating read, both honest and nearly unbelievable. It’s a fresh “coming to America” story that deals directly with the problems of the Cold War while treating all involved with the degree of respect merited.

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One Response to Enemies of the People, ****

  1. Sarah says:

    I love his interviews–especially with people who have clearly never watched the show/are living under a rock and will be firing some assistant for not giving them the full scoop on what they’re getting into by being interviewed by him.

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