Paper Bridge – Reviews
New edition, 2009
As its subtitle hints, this personal portrait is more than a travelogue. Its author may have been raised in New York, but she was born in Budapest. And though she was only four years old when the aftermath of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution drove her family into exile, that experience gave her a particular access and understanding.
Her return took place nearly three decades later, and as the country entered its final decade as a communist state, Porter captured the daily lives of its citizens – its shopkeepers and students, its artists and professionals – in a way that the Iron Curtain had made impossible.
Her book was first published 30 years ago. Reissued now in a new edition, it permits another kind of travel – time travel – though its astute observations bear up well to the scrutiny of history.
Daily Mail, 16 October, 2009
Paper is the great tool any writer must use to build bridges, and the bridges Monica Porter must build are many and complex. Chief among them is one between her chosen life in London and her cultural heritage from that historically beleaguered nation at the meeting point of east and west, Hungary.
This informative and evocative book about the author’s journey back to her homeland, after fleeing with her family to the US as a small child, was first published in 1981 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution; this new edition arrives with a foreword by the former diplomat, Sir Bryan Cartledge. It is a poignant story of burning as well as building bridges, in political and personal realms. But the most encouraging feature of 21st century Hungary is its young people, Porter finds.
“How boring!” Margaret Thatcher exclaimed when Cartledge declared his wish to be named ambassador to Hungary. This fascinating book enthusiastically dismantles any such prejudice.
Independent on Sunday, 22 November, 2009
Of all the books timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the revolutions of 1989, The Paper Bridge may have the most charm. It is an elegant account of a visit the author made to Hungary, the land of her birth, a few years before those dramatic months when the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe fell apart…
Life under communism before the Iron Curtain came down offered little to feel nostalgic about. But Porter is good at bringing that period back to life…[She] describes, often with humour, what the people were rebelling against when they toppled the dictatorships…This is the importance of her book for a generation of people who visit Eastern European capitals for weekend breaks and cannot imagine how forbidding these places were just two decades ago.
Mail on Sunday, 17 January, 2010
…what comes through is a more complex picture than is often given in accounts of ‘life behind the Iron Curtain’, where everything is seen in strict black-and-white terms, with hardly any shading.
Through her travels around Budapest, meeting relatives, friends and friends of friends, and her accounts of trips to Sopron, the Danube bend, Debrecen and elsewhere, we get a good feel of how existence behind the Iron Curtain was much more varied than is often believed…the book is certainly an enjoyable read.
Budapest Times, 17-24 May, 2010
Original edition, 1981
‘[Monica Porter’s] book is jolly and wistful – and rather passionate…She examines her own place both inside and outside Hungary movingly… “As it happens, Hungary is not a difficult country to love,” she writes. Indeed it is not, and Monica Porter’s book shows that admirably.’
William Shawcross, The Spectator
…Charming, unaffected…A sincere, essentially saddening book – but cheerfulness keeps breaking in.
[Monica Porter’s] rediscovery of her country, her relatives, and her thoughts about the present state of Hungary are never less than interesting, and often have an insight denied to political theorists.
The Good Book Guide
…a fascinating account of life in modern-day Hungary…a book which will appeal both to migrants – from any country – and to Australians interested in understanding the double life which so many fellow citizens can never completely escape.
In this quiet, simply written, affecting book, [Monica Porter] describes the roots-seeking journey she and her four-year-old son made to Budapest 25 years after the abortive revolt…In her month-long stay, Porter comes to understand her native land’s tragic past and “stagnating” present…She has built a delicate bridge between the past and her chosen way of life in London.
The author has a sharp eye, a warm heart and an insight belying her years.
Francis Rentoul, BBC World Service