Verdict: With English as his second language, author Laszlo Hopp suffers the same handicap as Joseph Conrad, but rises to the occasion with this dramatic examination of the Hungarian Army in the twilight of the Communist era.
Tibor Dalos, a young physician living in Budapest in 1978, is conscripted into the army. But instead of being assigned to the military engineering unit near his home, he is chagrined to be sent to a first-response battalion in Kisliget, located in western Hungary. There, he finds himself at a remote garrison on constant guard against NATO forces. But he quickly understands that the real enemy is the tyranny of petty minds. His superior, Dr. Ferenc Vida, a self-described “applied misanthropist,” is too busy looking after his private practice patients in town to care for his own men. And the commander of the base, Colonel Irmai, is frustratingly always thinking the worst of Timor and the best of the devious Dr. Vida.
One of Tibor’s first patients is a sad sack soldier who attempted suicide after being beaten up for fear that he might be gay. Tibor is sickened to see how cruel army life can sometimes be. But he finds comfort in his warm friendship with an orderly, Peter Lantos. And in the town, he attracts the attention of two different women, Kati and Zsuzsa. How will Tibor choose between them? In the end, circumstances pile up against Tibor, forcing him to make a fateful decision about his future.
With English as his second language, author Laszlo Hopp suffers the same handicap as Joseph Conrad, but rises to the occasion with this dramatic examination of the Hungarian Army in the twilight of the Communist era. The author gives us strong characters and a vividly evoked sense of place. And although he ultimately could have pushed the conflict between Tibor and Dr. Vida a little further, in the end he has produced a novel that that can stand alongside James Jones’ From Here to Eternity and James Kennaway’s Tunes of Glory as a worthy addition to the literature of peacetime barracks life.
Reviewed by Kenneth Salikof for IndieReader
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