Survival is a primal instinct for our species. However, the price one pays to survive might leave its mark on both individuals and entire nations for years to come. This lesson is evident in the history of the 20th century, where wars and other catastrophic events left scars on humanity. Rita Bozi’s book, When I Was Better, is a portrait of the struggles and atrocities faced by the people of Hungary in the mid-1900s. The story follows the lives of István and Teréza, two lovers from a small village, as they navigate the challenges of war, Soviet rule, and the Hungarian Revolution eventually managing to escape to Canada. The author uses these characters to show the toll that war and conflict can take on individuals and relationships.
No two people could ever experience war and its cataclysmic aftermath the same way, and no one could truly judge the choices that its victims have to make without having lived through those times themselves. Literature provides an insight into this world, bringing the scarred wounds of a civilization’s soul out in the open. In When I Was Better, Rita Bozi draws on immense historical research into immigrant struggles and tales of generational trauma, to illustrate the personal, professional, and political dilemmas that occurred in the lives of so many during one of the most strenuous times of the 20th century. During World War Two and its Cold War aftermath, humanity ultimately waged a war against itself. This hits harder seen through the eyes of a couple of star-crossed lovers like István and Teréza, as they navigate through these events that explode into the Hungarian Revolution.
István and Teréza seem to face every challenge a couple can face during a time when the world was quite literally disintegrating around them. By contrasting this bleak world with a world of light, joy, and home, the author skillfully illustrates the cost of both oppression and hidden resistance. The story’s exploration of hope takes on many forms, such as between the separated husband and wife who suffer from distance and emotional disconnect, a mother who dreams of a peaceful future for her offspring, and siblings, friends, and family members. What sets these characters apart is their power and influence, which becomes a central point of interest. The text raises a critical question: can one assign blame solely to the shooter when the trigger was pulled by someone else higher up the chain? The author underlines the responsibility that of soldiers still bear even when they are forced to be mere puppets whose strings are pulled by men hiding behind walls.
As Soviet rule is installed and a reign of terror begins, When I Was Better questions whether love and happiness are merely the absence of fear and failure, or whether the latter is the absence of the former. When the oppressive regime is just out of sight around every corner, is it ever truly out of mind? Bozi portrays the difficulty of recalling the language of intimacy that once existed when distance becomes a familiar obstacle. Whether it’s the cyclical nature of life or the intuitive power of the human mind, the desire to find what we lack the most is a common one, often standing in stark contrast to what we already possess. István’s journey across the ocean, in the company of Béla and Marika, a more light-hearted couple, shows the journey of hope, both figuratively and literally, as the characters leave behind their past experiences and emotions and travel across the ocean to the other side. The author uses characters such as Béla and Marika to highlight the irony of how we tend to search for what we lack while missing it the most. Suppressing emotions becomes a crucial, but damaging strategy in navigating through life’s challenges, resulting in a relatable reading experience that resonates even with contemporary audiences.
The book also delves into the gender roles of the time, showcasing the different experiences of men and women during these trying times. While men fought on the battlefield, women wore armor at home, holding families together and raising children. The book sheds light on the struggles and sacrifices made by women, often forgotten in the pages of history. The story also highlights the importance of hope and courage, traits that were in short supply during those dark times. While millions of lives ended on sooty grounds of fumes and gunpowder, one might stop to think whether the war truly ended when it did. The battles continued in the lives of every soldier, every wife who had seen her husband return as a weathered man and every mother who received her son with wounds on the soul. The return to normalcy is a far more underrated journey than what we learn in history classes and this book traces this core memory with commendable intricacy.
In conclusion, Rita Bozi’s book is a touching narrative that takes readers on a journey through the struggles and sacrifices of individuals in war-torn Hungary. It highlights the toll of war on humanity and the importance of hope and courage in times of crisis. The text explores one of the bloodiest periods in human history to demonstrate that although parents pass down a lot to their offspring, the stains of misery are not easily erased. Our past is an integral part of our identity, and scars and experiences, despite their emotional and mental weight, are learning curves that ultimately shape our futures. No matter how steep the path, one must keep moving forward, embracing the simple truth that human lives should be lived and not merely endured. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the personal, professional, and political dilemmas faced by individuals during one of the most challenging times in human history.
When I Was Better by Rita Bozi is a powerful and emotional portrayal of the struggles faced by individuals in war-torn Hungary during the mid-1900s. Bozi skillfully explores the toll of war on humanity and the importance of hope and courage in times of crisis, while highlighting the sacrifices made by women during these trying times. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the personal, professional, and political dilemmas faced by individuals during one of the most challenging times in human history. If you want to delve into a touching narrative that will stay with you long after you finish reading, then buy When I Was Better on Amazon today.
Also Read: Rita Bozi – Interview