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Hungarians

The-Hungarian-Parliament-Building-In-Budapest
Hungary’s Parliament Building

I am diving into research for my next novel, Ella, based on the life of my maternal grandmother. Ella was born in Nazykanizsa, a Hungarian town of about 20,000 at the time of her birth in 1884. I must learn everything about Hungary between 1880 and 1930 to write this novel and a good place to start is Hungarian history.

I had already studied Hungarian history starting around 1910 to sometime in the 1930s. The period just after World War I was particularly difficult and therefore also particularly interesting. The Hapsburg Empire collapsed at the end of the war and Hungary had, at last, her freedom from foreign rule. But that freedom came at a price. Hungary lost 72% of its former land area and 62% of its former population.

In addition, populations once under Hungarian rule, for example the Romanians, attacked Hungary and the newly formed pacifist government did nothing to repel these attacks. The pacifist government fell and was replaced with a Soviet-style communist government, which managed to wreak economic and civil havoc in its brief 133 days of control.

The Social Democrats, who replaced the communists, governed for three days before the Romanians invaded Budapest. In the weeks Romania controlled Budapest, they took everything they could load on railroad cars: livestock, food, furniture, jewelry, artworks and on and on. And they kept the trains.

The ravage of Budapest ended when Admiral Horthy rode into Budapest on a white horse. Horthy became the “regent” for Hungary and ruled until 1944.

This was hell, a great background for a page-turner. Ella’s life, through her 30s, could not possibly be as interesting.

Or could it?

In 1843 Hungary had been a conquered country for centuries. Tariffs and travel limitations impaired modernization. The Magyar aristocracy lived off the land, had almost complete control over their serfs, did not pay taxes, and was, essentially, the law in their domains.  Latin was the language of Hungarian courts and administration. A citizen of medieval Europe would have felt at home in 1847 Hungary.

By 1867, after the Ausgleich (Compromise) with Austria, the serfs were freed, tariffs were reduced, travel bans lifted, and the privileges of the aristocracy greatly reduced. The country was ready for economic take-off. Agricultural output soared, railroads were built, telegraph, telephone, and electricity were installed. Industries such as coal and iron mining, grain milling, engineering, textile, leather and clothing manufacture all thrived.

Budapest, the center of this growth, bustled. By 1900 it had three times as many people as it had in 1867. It had built the first subway system on the continent. It was the largest milling center in the world. It had built an opera house, and palace-like villas graced its main boulevard, Andrássy út. Famous poets, writers, musicians, and painters, as well as gymnasium boys and their teachers, frequented its cafes. The Parliament Building, completed in 1904, embodies the frenzy of 1900 Budapest; it covers six acres, has 10 courtyards, 13 passenger and freight elevators, 27 gates, 29 staircases and 691 rooms.

But this magnificent city rested on an unstable foundation. Almost 50% of Hungary’s population was non-Magyar: Croats, Romanians, and Serbs among others. Jews had prospered during the economic boom and some had become “Robber Barons,” while the aristocracy had become poorer and conservative. The Magyars still wanted their independence from Austria and the non-Magyars wanted their independence from the Magyars. Budapest and the rest of Hungary were no longer sure they liked each other. Coalitions broke apart. There were riots in the streets, and even riots in the new Parliament building.

It is said that a Hungarian is someone who enters a revolving door behind you but comes out in front. Perhaps Hungarians need these supernatural powers to survive their history. And such a history makes a great setting for a page-turner.

Harvard Places

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Widener Library on the Harvard Yard decked out with the Harvard shield and it’s motto, Veritas.

 

 

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Photo credit Paul Horowitz

Harvard yard in the snow, as it was in Mia’s time.

 

 

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The fire escape that was Mia and Jamie’s private entrance.

 

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Of one the lions guarding the math department at 2 Divinity St.

Review: Becoming Mia

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View from Mia’s Inspiration Point

The following is my friend Carol Edge’s review of Becoming Mia.

Perhaps it is too soon for history to be thoroughly objective about the second half of the 1960s in this country. But the period always evokes opinion, firsthand or secondhand, lived or imagined, condemned or romanticized. Wendy Teller’s depiction of the ’60s — Becoming Mia — is both lived and imagined. Rooted in the author’s personal experiences, this engrossing story focuses on a young woman’s coming into her own during a transitional period when many young women were awakening to their potential.

Teller paints a convincing picture of what “co-eds” faced at a time when the phrase “math phobic” was freely applied to girls, even those with talent. Protagonist Mia must overcome some very real obstacles before embracing mathematics, where her true talent lies. Her journey is fraught by that other preoccupation of youth: falling in love. The latter is often as much an obstacle as the system that prefers its women students to seek “MRS” degrees. Mia’s quest to realize her potential is complicated by her love for and loyalty to her family, in particular her beleaguered father, whose brilliant accomplishments cast a long shadow.

Teller’s novel, while drawing on her unique history, speaks to universal themes of love, adversity, and growth. The process of “becoming” is ultimately about self awareness.

 

Carol Edge, 5/1/18

Ella

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The staircase in Ella’s childhood home.

Since Becoming Mia has launched, I have started doing research for my next project, Ella. This novel will be loosely based on my grandmother’s life. Ella was born sometime between 1880 and 1885 and died in 1956. Despite my parents attempts to get her out of Hungary, she was never allowed to leave, so I never met her.

All I have are the crumbs of her story my mother told me. How I wish I had listened more carefully and asked more questions!

One tidbit flashes in neon lights. Ella translated Huckleberry Fin into Hungarian. Why would a wealthy Hungarian lady translate Mark Twain?

After doing some research – thank you internet – I discovered Ella was born to a wealthy family in Nagykanizsa, a town of about 50,000 in Southwestern Hungary. Nagykanizsa is a 5 hour train ride to Vienna.  Might a wealthy family spend time in Vienna? Of course they would. And who spent 20 months in Vienna in the late 1890s? Mark Twain! So maybe Ella met Twain in Vienna and they talked about his novels.

But wait. That’s in English. Would Ella speak English? Of course she would. Any properly brought up young Hungarian women spoke German, French, and English in addition to Hungarian.

Did this meeting really take place? I don’t know. But it is certainly possible and I am writing fiction, so in my book Ella met Mark Twain when she was in her teens. And that changed her life.

Stay tuned.

 

 

Becoming Mia is Available!

2019NewCoverKindleSmallToday is release day. Becoming Mia is available at Amazon. I published Becoming Mia through Weyand Associates, the company my husband  and I own. It has been an education.

I decided to self publish rather than find a traditional publisher for a number of reasons, the most important being that this was a personal story, even though it was fiction. Joanna Penn has a good summary of the pros and cons of self publishing, for my friends who might be considering their options.

Deciding to self publish empowered me. I was not at the beck and call of some unknown agent or publisher and did not have to respond to what they thought might sell well. And it was a good thing I was empowered, because making the decision was the easy part. Now all I had to do was get the book edited, published, and marketed.

Lucky me, I have a secret weapon: my husband. He is the Einstein of grammar and punctuation. He went through my manuscript with a fine tooth comb, adding commas and paragraph breaks, catching inconsistencies, and convincing me small changes would make a big difference. If you don’t happen to have a magic husband around, you will probably need an editor.

Not only can my husband edit a book, he has also published a number of them through CreateSpace. If you are going that route for the first time you might want to look at his blog entry on CreateSpace.

He designed the cover. Actually, he designed three covers before we had one we thought was appropriate.

He managed all the minutia of the interior of the book: credits for quoted passages, line spacing, fonts for the text and the page headers, squaring pages, and I don’t know what else. He was meticulous.

Having done all that, we also had marketing to do. I created a web site, WendyTeller.com with information about the book, background notes, and topics for book club discussions. We made up cards with the book cover and blurb to pass out. I assembled a set of lists to email. I wrote a press release and sent it out to various organizations. And I still need to ask people for book reviews. This blog entry is part of the marketing effort.

I have learned a lot and have enjoyed the experience.

Now I’m ready to get to my next project about my grandmother Ella, who translated Huckleberry Fin into Hungarian.

 

 

 

Boris II

20180221_145232I bought a new car. My current ride is 10 years old and has traveled more than 95,000 miles. I make the 250-mile drive to Chicagoland several times a year and the thought of a breakdown in the middle of nowhere is daunting. Besides, inflation is heating up, so even though the car seems expensive now, it will be much more a year from now. So says my rational self.

But really, I lust after a quiet ride. I want to listen to classical music on my way to the Chicago suburbs. The truth is I have just paid a Bzillion dollars for a stereo-on-wheels.

My new ride has a USB port. I can load a memory stick with all the music I love, plug the memory stick in, and listen over the car’s speakers. I’ve spent hours ripping all my favorite CDs. As I go through the music, I think back to when I first got these albums, many of them first purchased on vinyl when I was in college. Back then I spent what seemed like a Bzillion dollars on a KLH system, complete with turn table and speakers. My brother, who had far more sophisticated ears than mine, didn’t think much of my purchase. He thought I should have spent a Gzillion dollars on something better. I claimed my little stereo was fine for me. My elder and wiser brother nicknamed my stereo Boris Good-Enough, also known as Boris. And so it was called through college, grad school, through my first several jobs, until sometime after my first child was born, when CD players were available.

There is an analogy here. My husband thought I really should have added all kinds of bells and whistles to my new car – self-parking, you’re-going-to-crash detection, seats that shake to wake you up. He would have had me spend a Gzillion dollars on a really fine vehicle.  I think my stereo-on-wheels is perfect for me, so I’m naming it Boris Good-Enough II, also known as Boris II.

Why a Piano Is Living in My House

keyboarsThe piano looks dignified from a distance. A little more than seven feet long, the sleek black grand takes up the back third of the book-lined room. But as you come nearer you see the milky white water stains on its lid. The black paint is worn away along the edges of the case, showing the original red-brown finish and beneath that the bare wood. A black smudge, impervious to all attempts to remove it, crouches in the corner of middle c.

It is an ancient piano. It was already more than a half century old when my father bought it in the 1930s. He considered the $200 he spent for it, a king’s ransom for a university professor during the depression, his best investment.

The piano moved along with the family from New York City to Washington, D.C., from Washington to Chicago to Los Alamos back to Chicago to Danville, California, and Berkeley and Stanford. In the early years of my parents’ marriage, the piano dominated the common space of their small homes. My mother named it The Monster.

I cannot remember a time when my father did not play The Monster. I heard Beethoven sonatas when I was in my mother’s womb. I took in Mozart, Shubert and Brahms as I suckled at my mother’s breast. As I grew up, the piano was a constant, its notes accompanying my playtime and my homework, melodies lulling me to sleep at night.

Some did not enjoy the music as much as I. One night, just after 10 p.m., the door bell interrupted my father’s playing. A young policeman, hat in hand, was at the door. He explained that there was a city ordinance forbidding loud noises after 10 at night and a neighbor had complained. I am not sure who was more embarrassed, the policeman or my father.

When my father died, three years after my mother, my brother and I had to find a home for The Monster. None of our kids wanted it and my brother had no interest. I could not bear to part with it. So I brought it home.

It took up a large part of our living room and looked so lonely, I decided to learn to play. When I found a piano teacher and started to practice, my husband renamed it the Loudenboomer and declared our retirement home would have a soundproof piano room. We retired, built the special room, and the Loudenboomer lives there now, surrounded by books.

A portrait of my father hangs on the wall opposite the Loudenboomer. He would have loved this room. He would have played every night after 10.

It has been 13 years since the Loudenboomer came to live with us. I practice every day. I do not play well, but I love it. The notes, even the wrong notes, maybe especially the wrong notes, make my house feel like my home.