Next month will see the publication of Fever At Dawn, the debut novel from Hungarian film director Peter Gardos. What makes this a particularly special debut is the fact that it is inspired by the true story of the author’s parents.
‘My father, Miklos, sailed to Sweden on a rainy summer’s day three weeks after the Second World War ended.’
The story begins in 1945 as Miklos is transported to Sweden after the war. With the war left behind the pain and suffering still clings to Miklos who becomes ill and finds himself in a crowded hospital ward. Things take a turn for the worse when his doctor delivers a devastating prognosis – he is given only six months left to live. However, despite this grim news Miklos is determined to make the most of his last months, coming up with a plan to find love, and to get married. This begins Miklos’ mission and he writes letters to women who are from the region of his birth. With a staggering 117 letters handwritten and sent, Miklos awaits the responses and his quest for love gets underway.
‘I have a picture of you in my mind. I wonder how close to reality it is.’
Amongst those who replied was Lili, a young woman who was a patient in a rehabilitation hospital. Herself confined to her bed, Lili took comfort in this unexpected letter, inviting Miklos to write to her again. Throughout the course of the novel we follow Miklos and Lili on their respective journeys and watch as their relationship develops. Their journey is not always a straightforward one and there are difficult moments but on the whole I found it to be a heart-warming and uplifting story. It perfectly captures the post-war setting and how people coped in the aftermath. The characters in the story have suffered through war and illness and loss but despite it all, hope remains. The focus here is on the determination and strength of the human spirit. Not giving up on something, no matter what barriers life may bring.
‘You have always fever at dawn. There are no miracles.’
As the novel is based on the story of how Gardos’ parents met it did result in knowing from the offset how the story may unfold. However, this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book and it was nice to follow the characters on their journey. It very much felt like I was sharing the author’s treasured family memories. Peter Gardos’ mother presented him with the bundle of letters following his father’s death and he finally learnt of how his parents met and fell in love. Through this book, those letters are now being shared with a generation of readers.
‘Yes, this was poetry itself. It had looped its way out from the pit of his stomach, spiced by the music of his heart and the precise mathematics of his brain.’
I enjoyed Fever at Dawn; I found it to be a charming story that whilst tinged with sadness was ultimately a story about hope and love. I was intrigued to see that there will be a film based upon this novel and I will look forward to seeing how this remarkable tale translates onto the screen.
Fever at Dawn will be published on 7th April 2016 by Doubleday. Many thanks to Alison Barrow for providing a proof copy for review.