The Bridge at Andau by James A. Michener

Nonfiction — print. Random House, 1957. 272 pgs. Library copy.

I decided to read this book for two reasons; the first being that I will be travel to Hungary in March and know little about the country outside of the days of the Nazis and Arrow Cross, and the second that I consider Michener one of my favorite authors but have read of his nonfiction. The cover of my book says that this book is “the heroic story of the revolt by the Hungarian people that made crystal clear to the world the true face of communism”, and it details the events of October 23, 1956 to November 10, 1956 when Hungary revolted against the Soviet Union.

It then goes on to discuss the place from which Hungarians left the country in the days after into Austria, and Michener reminisces on his own attempts to help people cross the bridge and swamps into Austria. He also looks at how the world, particularly the United States and Austria, responded to the events and the influx of Hungarian immigrants as well as what this means for the future of Hungary as it’s youth defected.

“Now suppose that the average age of these Americans fleeing their homeland was twenty-three, that they were the kinds of people who might normally be expected to have brilliant futures before them, that there were no aged or sick or mentally defeated among them…only the best. Would you not say that something terribly wrong had overtaken America if such people rejected it? That’s what happened in Hungary.” (pg. 204)

I found this to be a very interesting read in part because this book was published in 1957 and it’s based on interviews he conducted with people as they came across the border.  There aren’t any footnotes in the book; readers must simply take Michener’s word for what he says as the names of the interviewees have also been changed.

“Most of the names in this book are fictitious for the reason that the people involved are still terrified that the AVO will track down their friends and relatives and torture them endlessly. Each of the people whose stories are told here will recognize himself for in each instance at the end of the interview I said, ‘Now you make up a name for me to use.’ They understood and did so.” (pg. 137)

I learned a lot from the book; not only about an important part of Hungarian history but also about the history of the Soviet Union in its satellite states. His descriptions are very haunting, and his descriptions of the acts of heroism and the desire for a better life are very moving. Just a perfect blend if you ask me.


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