For nine-year-old Beth Lowe, it should have been a magical summersun-kissed days lounging in rickety deck chairs, nights gathered around the fire. But what begins as an innocent vacation to Hungary ends with the devastating separation of her parents. Beth and her father return home alone, leaving her mother, Marika, behind.
Over the next seven summers, Beth walks a tightrope between worlds, fleeing her quiet home and distant father to bask in the intoxicating Hungarian countryside with Marika. It is during these enthralling summers that Beth comes to life and learns to love. But at sixteen, she uncovers a life-shattering secret, bringing her sacred summers with Marika abruptly to an end.
Now, years later, Beth receives a package containing a scrapbook, a haunting record of a time long forgotten. Suddenly, she is swept back to the world she left behind, forced to confront the betrayal that destroyed her and to search her heart for forgiveness.
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May 28, 2012
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Excerpt from The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall
I always knew that my mother was different from my father and me. She's blown by different winds, he used to say, but that made her sound flimsy, and I knew better. She snapped like a firecracker when she was mad, and cried the Danube when she was happy, but she always did exactly what she wanted. She was tall and proud and relentlessly foreign, with a scarlet stain for lips and hair like a flock of ravens.
I think of her and all I see is red. Red for passions, because whatever else I can say about her, I cannot doubt her ardor. Red for her favorite flower, poppies, meaning remembrance, but also bloodshed. She stitched rows of tiny poppies to the hems of her skirts, and to the cuffs of blouses. And red for Beware! A warning that should have been flashed to anyone who came her.
I used to think that it was all because she was from another country, and we weren't. Then I met other Hungarians, and there was never anyone remotely like Marika. What it meant was that right from the beginning, my father and I were thrust together. Not through a deliberate alliance, more by bent of not being her. You and your father are two peas in a pod, she used to say to me, and she made it feel like an insult, the way she popped the last word from her lips.
Once when I was very small, no more than five, I remember trying to fall asleep on her chest, but the beating of her heart beneath my cheek threw me off-kilter. I lost my own rhythms and began to gasp. And sometimes I caught her looking at me, as though I was a puzzle she was trying to figure out. I dared to glare back, to make sure she knew that she, too, was indecipherable, Even later on, when I grew to like the same things as her--fireflies in the garden at sunset and Hungarian dance, Zoltan Karoly's landscapes and cold cherry soup--there was always a distance between us. It was as though we just weren't meant to be.
So it made sense that events culminated as they did, for in the end we let each other go. The natural order was, I supposed, restored. That is what I've always told myself, on nights when I've woken tangled in bedsheets, my forehead damp. When I've found myself craving the sound of her voice, her whoops and hollers, sent from one room to the next without a care for walls or doors. Or the feeling of her hand in mine, and her rings, shining like licked toffees, leaving their indent on my skin. I've always said that everything happens for a reason, and such empty reasoning comforted me once. But I can't work anymore, not now. Instead, my mind scrambles and flits, like mosquitoes caught in a curtain. I haven't seen or hear from her in fourteen years. The only thing I know for certain, now, is that she is dead.
She left for the first time when I was nine years old, during our one and only trip to Hungary as a family.