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The Puppet Maker’s Daughter by Karla M. Jay is a Spring Break Bookapalooza pick #historicalfiction
Title: The Puppet Maker’s Daughter
Author: Karla M. Jay
Genre: Historical Fiction
The war comes late to Budapest. Nineteen-year-old Marika, forced out of nursing school, believes she and her Jewish family will remain safe, even as Nazi soldiers fill their cobbled streets. With Russians to their east, the Allies to their west, everyone assumes the war is nearly over. Soon, she is pulled into the resistance to rescue orphans and displaced Jews while keeping her family one step ahead of Eichmann’s extermination plans. As the world turns dark around her, the fanatical Arrow Cross Party, a ruthless group that listens to no one including the Germans, unleashes a killing spree on the remaining Jews of Europe. One day, as peril intensifies, she must make a decision that puts her in extreme danger to save herself, her family, and the orphans she’s sheltered. Will she regret that moment for the rest of her life?
March 19, 1944
“The Germans have arrived,” my father says.
I’m enjoying an unusually warm spring day with my family on an outdoor restaurant terrace in Széchenyi Square when my father, Endre Tausig, speaks. His words remain adrift in my mind, like clouds struggling to arrange themselves, a pleated pattern across the blue expanses, not yet noticed. I close my eyes and tilt my face toward the warm sun, the moment draped in the clinking of silverware against fine china and bubbly conversation floating above the restaurant’s outdoor dining area. The fresh air is infused with the smells of chicken paprikash, fisherman’s soup, and warm bread. This Sunday morning the restaurant is packed, like all the other cafés, beer gardens, and coffee houses in the city. Everyone in Budapest is ready to shrug off winter’s dark layers for the transformative embrace of spring.
“The Germans have arrived,” my father repeats, this time with more urgency.
Awash in faint scents of paint and turpentine, the telltale aromas of one who creates puppets as a hobby, he is a soft-spoken man. But the way he lays out these four words, cold and evenly placed like headstones in a cemetery, grabs my attention. That and the increasingly closer sound of drumbeats.
“They’re always here, Father.” I set down my flute of sparkling wine. Hungary remains a safe island in the middle of the world war thanks to our Regent, Miklós Horthy. By now, the third year into the war, Hungarians are used to seeing German military. They’ve been crossing through our country on their way to other fights they started. Recent rumors of British and American victories give us hope the three-year war between everyone else will end soon.
István, my older brother by four years, scoffs. “They’re doing what they always do.” He and his wife, Erzsébet, and their baby son have come into the city for this special luncheon.
“Showing off,” he continues. “Trying to discredit the rumors that they’re losing, pretending they’re soon-to-be victors.” He and my father stand and walk to the terrace railing, studying the Danube and the bridges leading from the west.
István refuses to say much about his time in the 2nd Hungarian Army that Russia crushed last year. His and his wife’s conversion to Catholicism two years ago probably saved him from a worse fate. At least he came home whole. Two months ago, My fiancé, Gellert, and five others escaped the forced labor battalion, solely made up of Jews. They made their way back to Budapest after the Germans turned and ran, leaving them all to fend for themselves against the Russians. Gellert is trained as a medic, one year shy of becoming a doctor, yet the Hungarian Army put the Jews at the front, creating a shield of unimportant flesh, with limited weapons and food as they tried to hold the Don River and take Stalingrad. Nothing but a complete failure. Forty thousand Hungarian soldiers dead with thousands missing. The Jewish laborers like Gellert fared even worse. They were given suicide duty, burying the dead on the front lines with no protection while bullets from both sides traced across the bloody scene. They wielded only wooden sticks to clear minefields ahead of the rest of the troops or risk a bullet in the back for disloyalty.
Gellert returned with the help of the resistance group and is confined to the Dániel Bíró Hospital until he recuperates from a serious head wound and a troubling darkness that seems to rule his sleep.
“Is that a band I hear?” Across the table, Erzsébet stops feeding two-year-old József, who is the reason for this name-day celebration. We have a long tradition of celebrating the day of the year that matches a family member’s first name and decided today should be no different. Father paid for the added pleasure of a champagne brunch founded by another József, Mr. József Törley, a local winemaker.
“It sounds like one,” my mother, Leichi, says. As always she’s elegantly dressed, today wearing a silky grey-and-pink-plaid dress bought in Paris when she and Father traveled there in ’38 to sell one of his specialty puppets in the Latin Quarter. She twists her wedding ring, a nervous habit. “Maybe it’s a celebration we didn’t know about.”
The ensemble is closer now. Drums and horns. We take the two daily Jewish newspapers that are still secretly published, so I doubt we wouldn’t be aware of a scheduled parade through the city. My mother is always the positive one and tries to share the light from a match not yet lit.
I didn’t inherit that kind of trust. The slightest breath can snuff a flame. I’m like my father in this regard—deal with whatever comes head-on, even if it means there’s nothing good about the situation.
“This isn’t any celebration,” Father says, turning his head toward our table. “At least not for us.”
I join my father and brother at the brass railing overlooking the streets. Budapest, the capital of The Kingdom of Hungary, was created in 1873 by the merger of three cities—Buda, Óbuda, and Pest. The town spreads along the banks of the river Danube and is divided into twenty-three districts, sixteen of which are located on the Pest side, six in Buda, and one on Csepel Island on the Danube. We live in Pest.
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If money were no object, where would you go for a Spring Break vacation and why?
I’d go to Ronda, Spain and stay in a mountaintop hotel and do the research for my novel.
Why is your featured book a must-read this spring?
This novel takes place in WWII starting in the spring. These little known facts about what happened to the Jews and those that tried to help them in Hungary are both devastating and honorable.
One lucky reader will win a $75 Amazon US or Canada gift card
Open internationally. You must have a valid Amazon US or Amazon CA account to win.
Runs April 1 – 30, 2023.
Drawing will be held on May 1, 2023
Karla has written in a few genres from humor to neo-noir, but her adopted favorite is historical fiction. Honors include recognition from The Independent Press, the Jerusalem Post, Reader Views (the Tyler R. Tichelaar Award), Book Excellence, NYC Big Book Awards, the US Review of Books, Independent Book Publishers Association, Self-Publishing Review, Indies Today, the “Hoffer,” the Selfies, the Independent Author Network (Book of the Year Finalist), and readers around the world, all acknowledging and giving value to contributions by an ever-growing community of self-published authors.
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