I’ve finally finished a book! Protip: When starting a summer reading challenge, don’t pick a long, dense book as your first choice.
I found They Were Counted in a classic novel’s display at the library. My great-grandfather was born in a little village in Transylvania, so I’ve always been interested in the area, and lately I’ve been exploring more of the art and music that came out of the region. This book popped into my life at the perfect time.
I think the best way to describe They Were Counted is if Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey had an Eastern European baby. This novel is ripe to be the next masterpiece theatre miniseries. Written in 1930 by a Transylvanian-Hungarian Politician, They Were Counted, the first volume of a trilogy, takes place in Hungary at the turn of the century (at this time, Transylvania was part of Hungary). The world that Bánffy presents is a troubled one. Hungary, still part of the Hapsburg Empire is in dire political straights, facing a constitutional crisis while trying to maintain autonomy from the Austrian empire. It was a period of history so foreign to me, that I had to read the entire introduction to learn about the political history of Hungary at the beginning of the 20th Century.
The novel focuses on Hungarian High Society as it spirals toward its inevitable demise. It is a fascinating look at the lives of both the Gentry and the poor. Everyone has a dark secret, everyone has a political motive, and no one is safe, especially not the two young men at the centre of the story. One is an idealistic politician who just wants to serve his country and constituents, and one is an orphaned Transylvanian landowner who struggles to find acceptance in a society that he has every right to be part of, but has always felt like an outsider. Intrigue ensues
Aside from the Political and Societal drama, the novel also deals with a host of social issues including spousal abuse, gambling addiction, extreme wealth disparity, conflicts with racial “minorities,” Western influence, and even the changing attitudes toward music. Despite the large cast of characters, each one is given ample time to develop, and you begin to understand the motivations of even the most horrible characters. The book is long and dense, but it never feels boring.
If you are a fan of Dostoyevsky, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, or Anthony Trollope, I 100% recommend that you read this. They Were Counted is as decadent as the world it portrays, and incredibly satisfying and engrossing. I will definitely be reading the sequels, They Were Found Wanting, and They Were Divided
Currently Reading: The Garden Going Without Us by Lorna Crozier
For something Completely Different, I think that I am going to cleanse my palate with a little bit of poetry before I pick up something substantial again.
Now I want to hear from you! Comment or Tweet me using #SoubretteReads2015 and tell me what you’re reading and how many pages you’ve read. (I bet it’s way more than me)
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