This Rebel Heart

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Modern Age

This Rebel Heart
Author: Locke, Katherine
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Time Period: Modern Age
Time Frame: 1956
Geographic Area: Europe
Country: Hungary
Topics: Hungarian Revolution
Genre: Fiction
Reading Age: Young Adult, Adult
Format: Novel
Published: 2022

World History > Modern Age > Hungarian Revolution

A tumultuous tale of the student-led 1956 Hungarian revolution—and an all too timely look at the impact of Communism and the USSR in Eastern Europe—set in a fabulist, colorless post-WWII Budapest from Sydney Taylor Honor winner Katherine Locke.

“A haunting, beautiful read that centers queer Jewish characters.” —BuzzFeed

In the middle of Budapest, there is a river. Csilla knows the river is magic. During WWII, the river kept her family safe when they needed it most--safe from the Holocaust. But that was before the Communists seized power. Before her parents were murdered by the Soviet police. Before Csilla knew things about her father's legacy that she wishes she could forget.

Now Csilla keeps her head down, planning her escape from this country that has never loved her the way she loves it. But her carefully laid plans fall to pieces when her parents are unexpectedly, publicly exonerated. As the protests in other countries spur talk of a larger revolution in Hungary, Csilla must decide if she believes in the promise and magic of her deeply flawed country enough to risk her life to help save it, or if she should let it burn to the ground.

With queer representation, fabulist elements, and a pivotal but little-known historical moment, This Rebel Heart is Katherine Locke's tour de force.

Emily's Review

This was one of my most anticipated books of 2022, and it did not disappoint me. I love discovering historical fiction about time periods I've never read about before. Katherine Locke set their story during the Hungarian Revolution of the 1950s, and I love that they centered a Jewish girl. I can trace my family's heritage to Hungary, though they either left before the Holocaust or perished during it. So I'm always interested in reading more about Hungary, and I really enjoyed learning more about this time period.

The story is beautifully written, and very lyrical - it had moments that felt almost like a fairy tale. I really enjoyed the fantastical elements as well - Csilla has a connection to the river. It saved her during the Holocaust, and she hears it whispering to her frequently. There is also an Angel of Death, a Golem, and the way the author creates a colorless world to symbolize Soviet-controlled Hungary, only introducing color as the people begin to revolt.

I will say that I had issues with the pacing of the story. The first third of the book was very slow, and then all of the action happens in the last third. I think that the last third was also the best part of the story - it's when the characters really get to shine and you see the relationships blossom.

I loved just how Jewish the story was as well - the golem, the Angel of Death, discussions of antisemitism, the Holocaust, it was really well done. There were also several queer characters, and I always enjoy seeing queer people just living their lives in different eras of history. They existed then just as they do now.

Overall, I really liked the story and I recommend reading it if you are interested in reading about protest and revolution in history.

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