Fever at Dawn by Peter Gardos

Fever at Dawn

I can’t thank Alison Barrow of Penguin Random House enough for my advanced reader copy of Fever at Dawn by Peter Gardos. Fever at Dawn is published by Doubleday on 7th April 2016 and is available from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Waterstones and all good book stores.

Having survived the horrors of the Second World War, Jewish Hungarian Miklos determines to find himself a wife and writes to 117 young Hungarian women to fulfil his quest – despite being told he only has six months to live.

Based on the real life letters of the film director Peter Gardos’s parents, Fever at Dawn is a moving account of a love story against all the odds.

I’ve read that some readers have found Fever at Dawn slow and pedestrian. I couldn’t disagree more. I thought the pace of Fever at Dawn exemplified perfectly the obstacles placed in the way of Lili and Miklos and created an almost unreal dreamlike quality to the writing that might echo the actual fever Miklos suffered most mornings – hence the title. There’s a sparsity and simplicity to the vocabulary that serves to enhance the authenticity of the story. I found it completely compelling and moving, especially in the recounting of the memories Lili and Miklos don’t tell each other. Quite stark events are presented baldly with concise description making their impact even more profound and, for me, giving an intimacy to the writing. Even with this pared down approach, Peter Gardos manages to encompass all the senses so that there is a cinematic feel to descriptions.

The themes and events are often quite bleak – the war, concentration camps, rehabilitation, impending death, bureaucracy, politics and religion, but Peter Gardos has an incredible lightness of touch so that humour and quirkiness act as a foil and bring the story to life, particularly through Harry and his relentless pursuit of sexual gratification.

Even though I knew there must have been some kind of positive resolution for Miklos and Lili otherwise Peter Gardos wouldn’t be alive, their story had me gripped and I was never quite sure whether there would be a happy ending or something more prosaic.

The characters presented illustrate the power of human endurance and Miklos and Lili made me wonder how I would have responded had I lived through the same events. I cared about them completely, willing life to treat them positively and fairly.

Fever at Dawn is a wonderful story. It is moving, intimate and tightly written. I think it’s destined to become a modern classic – and deservedly so.

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