About a year ago, I read The Dragontail Buttonhole, the first book in a trilogy by Peter Curtis, in which he details his family’s flight from Prague after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. That story read like the best spy fiction of that period of infamy. Peter has followed that story with Cafe Budapest.
After an unbelievable trek by train, car and train again, Willie (dad), Sophie (mom) and Pavel (son) have arrived in Paris. They are virtually broke. Willie has hidden a small supply of gold coins in the heel of one shoe (shades of Bond, James Bond). After a couple stressful days in Paris, Willie finds a cheap hotel in which to house his family. After checking in at the Czech Embassy in Paris, Willie finds employment with the Czech Army in Exile and starts the process of getting his family’s necessary new papers.
While Willie is out getting his family’s papers in order and enlisting in the army, Sophie wanders the streets of Paris with Pavel in tow. Eventually she discovers the Café Budapest run by an older couple of Hungarians. Sophie was born in Hungary so there is an immediate mutual feeling of camaraderie between Sophie and the husband and wife who own the café.
Willie comes back to the hotel and tells Sophie he has the papers and a job with the army. Bad news, though. The army is training in southern France between Beziers and Agde on the SW coast. There is no provision for his family there so Sophie and Pavel will have to stay in Paris until family accommodations are available. That will take months.
Sophie becomes a regular visitor at Café Budapest. Eventually, the owners offer Sophie a part time job and allow Pavel to stay there during Sophie’s hours. A visit to a farm outside Paris gives Sophie and Pavel a respite from the stress of pre-war Paris. But that does not end well for Pavel.
After several months Sophie is semi-forced to leave Paris and join Willie in the south. War breaks out, Dunkirk happens and France capitulates to Germany. The Czech Army will be evacuated to England through Gibraltar. Willie is on the last ship out and Sophie and Pavel are on one of the first ships. Willie arrives first in Gibraltar by several days. Sophie’s trip is fraught with danger. They do not meet up in Gibraltar but do see each from ship to ship before they set off to England on separate ships. Their arrival in England and what happens there is the story that will continue in Book 3.
One of the things I took away from Café Budapest is that we all need a Café Budapest in our lives. This is a well written story of how one family escaped the horrors of Nazi terror. If you can read this without a tear or two, you probably are emotionless. I urge readers of history, thrillers and family sagas to read this series.
GO! BUY! READ!
–Jim Harris, retired book sales rep
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