A young author profiles his grandmother

Finding Maria: A young man’s search for his grandmother, and himself by Peter Szabo; © 2016;; ChickadeePrince; ISBN 9780991-327447; 138 pages; $11.99.

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – Late in his grandmother Maria’s life, Peter Szabo came to realize that as a cultured woman who had survived the Holocaust in Hungary and had withstood an abusive husband in the United States, she had led a remarkable life. The more he visited with her, the more fascinating she became. Together they visited art museums, strolled through New York City, and talked, with each get-together peeling back another layer of her elegant personality.

Szabo also became fascinated with the history she had lived through, devoting considerable time to reading books about the Holocaust in Hungary. His deepening interest also opened new pathways of communication with Maria’s children: his father Dani and aunt Eve, who had been minors during World War II.

Szabo’s narrative shuttles between the conversations that he, Dani and Eve have while cleaning out his grandmother’s apartment after her death, and Peter’s memories of the moments he had shared with her both in sickness and in health.

I was impressed by the author’s tremendous empathy. When Maria shared a story from her life, or even a simple fact, Peter would turn it over and over in his mind, picturing how his grandmother must have felt at the time of the incident described.

While the tone of the book is reflective, at times even melancholic there are occasional flashes of humor. I particularly enjoyed the story about Maria’s full-bearded twin cousins, and their hapless barber. On the first day, one of the cousins had his beard completely shaved off, so that his face was entirely smooth. On the second day, that cousin’s still-bearded twin sat in the barber’s chair. How could it be? thought the barber. He was just here yesterday, and now he’s back with a full beard!

That is what happens when you don’t do a good job the first time, the twin informed the barber.

*
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted via [email protected]

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