Linda Leith's memoir, Marrying Hungary, is the moving story of the daughter of Irish Communist parents who, after a peripatetic childhood, falls in love and marries a Hungarian refugee. It is a glimpse into a life spent among foreigners, a tale of identity and eventual independence. And it reveals what few memoirs reveal: what brings a couple together, what marriage means to an ambitious and accomplished woman, and why sometimes even a good marriage eventually fails.
The boys were aged thirteen, twelve, and eight in the summer of 1990. Andy and I sold our car, rented out the house on the Lakeshore Road and moved some of our private belongings into a storage area we built in the huge garage. We packed Hector, the yellow Lab, off for his flight to Prague and Budapest, and set off on our own journey through New York and Vienna, where we spent most of the day before boarding the connecting flight to Budapest; it was evening when we landed in Budapest.
Sándor had hired a vehicle big enough for us and all our luggage. We dropped our belongings off at the villa in Buda where we were renting an apartment, and headed out to dinner with the cousins. The talk was all in Hungarian, loud and excited. My wide-eyed boys and I were tired and withdrawn, both overstimulated and bored. The dark-stained wood and heavy furnishings of the wine-cellar restaurant, the gypsy musicians, the rough wine and heavy food were all too much for me. I'd been a fool to come back here, I decided that night, falling into bed in a state of exhaustion.
I woke in the dead of night. Andy was asleep beside me, the boys together in the bedroom next to ours. I was conscious of strangeness. The air was strange, not unpleasant, but strange. The room was large, the ceiling high, and the French windows open. It was a mild summer night, and the very air felt foreign, or perhaps there was simply more air than I was used to. We were near the top of the Hill of Roses, so named by the Turks for the roses that flourished on the hillside centuries earlier and that flourish there to this day. There was a faint, unfamiliar smell indoors, too—floor wax, perhaps, or furniture polish. We had rented the apartment fully furnished and equipped, and the duvet was light, the new sheets crisp against my skin. A light from the street slanted through the wooden blinds. I was enchanted.