I wanted to read Anastasia by Rupert Colley because of my own interest in the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. I’ve read a lot about the uprising and was interested to see how this author created a novel set in that time.
Anastasia is a powerful and engrossing read about a period of history that deserves to be remembered.
Rupert Colley’s skill in writing novels lies in his ability to create characters that the reader truly cares about. His characters are never simply mouthpieces for the political and social ideas of the time, but are fully rounded, complex individuals with their own personal stories.
We see this especially, for example, in Zoltan Beke who is an AVO (secret police) officer. It would have been all too easy to create a monster, after all the AVO were the Hungarian equivalent of the Gestapo in Nazi Germany or the Stasi in communist East Germany. But Zoltan is portrayed as a real man who loves his wife and daughter (even though he lets them down because of the pressures of his job), who is a little bit scared of his boss and who isn’t such a ruthless thug as his assistant. Even though his work leads him to do terrible things, it’s possible to feel empathy for this character. The revenge meted out to AVO officers was merciless and extreme. What Colley shows is that whilst the system may have been evil and corrupt, there are real human beings on all sides with their own personal fears, desires and motivations. Nothing is simple.
Similarly, the author introduces a sympathetic Russian character into the story. The novel opens in 1949 with a football match about to be played between the Hungarians and Moscow Lokomotiv. Valentin Ivanov is one of the visiting Russians who meets and falls in love with Eva, a Hungarian teacher. Inevitably, he is one of the Russian soldiers who, seven years later, enter Budapest with their tanks to put down the uprising.
The novel is set in 1949, 1953 and 1956 and follows the lives of Zoltan (the AVO officer), Eva, George (a Hungarian footballer) and Valentin (the Russian.) It paints a vivid portrait of life in communist Hungary prior to 1956 so that the reader can understand why the uprising took place at all. It is a powerful story that draws you in, makes you care about its characters and feel their pain and suffering.