By: Rita Bozi
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: June 19, 2022
Review Date: August 29, 2022
When I Was Better by Rita Bozi chronicles the Nazi invasion, Soviet occupation, and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. At the center of it all is Istvan’s and Tereza’s epic story and journey of survival.
The story opens in Hungary where we meet Tereza who has loved Istvan for as long as she can remember. Through all the turmoil and unrest in Hungary, Tereza and Istvan still manage to marry. Soon thereafter, Istvan escapes to an Austrian refugee camp where he befriends sixteen-year-old Barna. Barna adopts Istvan as his surrogate father which is a turning point in Istvan’s life. But things take a tragic turn...
Meanwhile, on the home front, things are getting worse for Tereza and her family. The Russians are in charge. They take what they want when they want it and to resist is met with horrific consequences. The Russians have an affinity for the Hungarian women and sadly the women in Tereza’s family (including Tereza) are raped. Her sister Klara left their home in Sombathely and moved to Budapest. Eventually, Tereza makes her way to Budapest. It’s been a long time since she has seen her sister. There will be no talk of what happened to either at that hands and control of the Russian soldiers. However, the unspoken words between them are more than enough to share their stories and tragic experiences. The years and decades on the road ahead for Tereza and her young son, Zolti, will pave a way of destitution and tragedy. Tereza refuses to give up. She believes in her soul that Istvan, Zolti, and she will reunite...someday.
It’s difficult to produce enough adjectives to describe the exceptional body of work Rita Bozi has produced in this stellar novel, When I Was Better. It is equally challenging to single out a particular passage over another given there is a multitude to choose from. Her scene set up and character description is off the charts. One example of this that caught my attention is on Page 175 when she describes Meszaros: "...As they were leaving the smoke-filled room, the Chief Officer pulled Istvan aside. Tereza kept a hold of his arm. Meszaros was ten years Istvan’s senior, with bushy black eyebrows—awnings over his eyeballs—his mouth stretched as wide as a frog’s and his upper lip was but a flap of skin. His wavy black hair receded only at the corners of his head. The rest poked forward in the middle of his forehead, like a cat’s tongue..." The prolific analogies and tangible accounts of the ravages of war are anchored throughout this novel. Ms. Bozi is more than adept in her research as she effortlessly sets the timelines and occurrences with precise accuracy. There is phenomenal emotion that bleeds across the pages. The only caution I would offer to the reader is the length of this book. It exceeds 500 pages. This was not a deterrent for me. Anytime a writer takes on an epic read such as this, it’s abundantly clear he/she had vision to deliver something quite memorable tenfold. In this case, Ms. Bozi has done so and admirably at that!
Quill says: When I Was Better is more than a ‘good book.’ It is a memory that steeps into the soul of the reader and one that will linger long after the proverbial ‘The End.’
For more information on When I Was Better, please visit the author's website at: www.ritabozi.com/