Peter Hargitai
iUniverse Books, 282 pages, $18.95 U.S. 2006.

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Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, an uprising against the repressive Communist government that threatened to topple Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe. Although the puppet government of  Erno Gero eventually fell, freedom was short-lived. In November of that year, Soviet tanks invaded Budapest and brutally crushed the rebellion, killing thousands of civilians including hundreds of demonstrators in front of the Parliament building and sending an estimated 200,000 Hungarians into exile. 

Based on actual events, Daughter of the Revolution, a novel by Peter Hargitai, tells the story of the Hungarian resistance movement, focusing on Cheetah, a 14-year old student who took up arms against the hated Hungarian Secret Police (AVO) and Russian tanks. In the dedication to the book, Hargitai, an English Professor at Florida International University in Miami, who witnessed the street fighting of the Hungarian Revolution as a boy, remembers the “kids” of Budapest who fought so bravely against overwhelming Soviet tanks and expresses the hope that people will never forget the courage of the students. 

His book then is their story, how they came to do what they did and the price that they and their nation paid. It is a story that is both understandable and deeply human, a compelling tale that allows us to share the emotions, the joys and triumphs and the ultimate heartbreak of the young freedom fighter and her friends. We are introduced to the young warrior on the first page. “My name is Izabella Barna”, she says, “I’m fourteen years old. Yesterday, I was an average schoolgirl. Today, I killed a man…I am the daughter of the Revolution…” 

Cheetah, whose father is a political prisoner, lives with her mother, her aunt, and her seven year old sister Krisztina who has a heart ailment. As she follows a crowd of thousands of students, workers, soldiers and old people as they head toward the Danube on Kossuth Boulevard, she hears a man recite a poem by Sandor Petofi, a patriotic statement urging Hungarians to stand up for freedom. Scared, Izabella runs all the way home, tells her mother and her aunt what she has seen and asks permission to join the demonstration. At first reluctant, her mother allows her to go with Krisztina if she will also take a neighbor on the ground floor known as Michelangelo because he thought he was going to become a famous painter. 

When they approach the demonstration, they hear a man introduced as the head of the Writers Union recite a 16-point demand against the government, including the demand that all Soviet troops withdraw from Hungary, the election of new leaders by secret ballot, and the freeing of all political prisoners. When the crowd moves toward the Radio Station, the first sound of gunfire is fired at demonstrators by the AVO. Soon the sporadic gunfire intensifies and the dead and the dying lay in the streets, sadly including Cheetah’s mother who had gone out into the crowd to help the wounded Michelangelo. 

People crawl out from side streets, gateways, and alleyways, taking up arms and answering the gunfire and tear gas thrown by the AVO and what started out as a peaceful demonstration erupts into full scale armed revolt. As Cheetah draws around her friends and supporters including a soldier known as Sewer Rat, a nurse called Sister Agnes, Paul Szilagyi, and the group’s leader Mustache (Gergely Pongracz), Hargitai describes their fierce stand against overwhelming odds and, with its fast pace and riveting action sequences, the story has strong cinematic potential, the kind filmmakers like Joe Eszterhas and Andy Vajna may do well to exploit. 

According to the author, “For the next twelve days, Hungarian freedom fighters, including a remarkable number of teenagers, fought in a bloody revolution against overwhelming Soviet armor. They set up tank barricades, tossed Molotov cocktails and, with their confiscated Russian submachine guns, made a stand on the streets of Budapest.” A crowd of over a thousand people attacked the police headquarters in Budapest and elements of the insurgents tracked down and killed both known and suspected ÁVO officers and informants. Using whatever weapons they had at their disposal, thousands organized into militias hoping to hold out until they received support from Western nations, support that never came. 

Public discussion about the revolution was suppressed in Hungary for over thirty years, but since the thaw of the 1990s it has been a subject of renewed interest and study. Daughter of the Revolution adds first hand knowledge to the debate as well as a feeling of being there and understanding what happened. Geared to a teenage audience, it is a powerful and inspiring story that testifies to the bravery of a few who selflessly changed the lives of many - forever. 

Howard Schumann
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