Ex-pats + mystery + quirky characters don’t quite add up for me in this one. Awarded 3 stars on Goodreads.
Strangers in Budapest strikes me as a mystery more than a standard novel. It draws heavily on the author’s own experience living in Budapest during the 1990s — feeling like an outsider, relying on the ex-pat community, and witnessing the lingering effects left by Nazi and Soviet occupations.
The story focuses on a young entrepreneurial American couple (Annie and Will), and their newly adopted baby, who have relocated to Budapest to take advantage of the economic opportunities offered by a more free Hungarian society. It turns out translating opportunity into success is more difficult than either of them expected.
Add to this a couple of interesting characters:
• like Edward, an older Jewish American, who has traveled to Budapest to hunt down the son-in-law he believes killed Edward’s ailing daughter for insurance money.
• And, Bernardo, a Latino businessman and philandering husband who wants Will to rejoin the corporate world.
• And, Stephen, a handsome but mysterious translator, born in the US but now exploring his Hungarian roots.
Many of these characters also come with long-hidden personal secrets regarding past family tragedies. And of course, when some secrets get revealed, the reader discovers some unexpected connections between characters.
The book builds toward a very suspenseful conclusion. But the question remains, why didn’t I like it more?
I think it’s because there were so many elements included that had no apparent reason for being there. Like a completely unexceptional pickpocket event, barefoot Roma children selling flowers on the street, or some Hungarian history awkwardly forced into cocktail party conversation.
At the conclusion, I simply felt the author wandered too much. Perhaps she was a little too interested in wanting to share her own cultural impressions, from living in Budapest, and simply lost sight that those experiences also needed to be pertinent to the book she was writing.
More about Jessica Keener.