Fever at Dawn is a profoundly moving and transcendent love story based on the real-life meeting of the author’s parents. Hungarian filmmaker Péter Gárdos marks a stunning new voice with his first novel.
It’s 1945 and, after surviving one of the most notorious Nazi concentration camps – Belsen – Hungarian Miklós is shipped by the Red Cross to Sweden where, among other refugees, he begins treatment at a medical centre. Miklós forms a friendship with his Swedish doctor but the doctor gives him the terrible news that his TB has progressed and he has only six months to live. Miklós, though, has other ideas. He is determined to live and he is determined to find a wife. He embarks on this mission by writing 117 letters to 117 Hungarian young women who are also being treated in Sweden.
After finding friendship with numerous women by mail, he forms a special bond with one particular letter writer, Lili, who barely survived her own time at Belsen. Against the will of the authorities, and after many letters, they eventually manage to meet and become determined to marry.
This beautiful novel cleverly ensnares the reader in a variety of emotions. It’s by turns, funny – such as Miklos’s ghastly appearance at his much anticipated first meeting with Lili, sporting an oversize winter coat, broken glasses and metal teeth (the originals all knocked out in a brutal beating) – and it’s in equal measure sad, with poignant moments as the many survivors search for their missing relatives back home in Hungary.
However, the story is one of hope and how love can transcend even the most terrible events in history. In an interview Gárdos says, “There was something in those people, or some of them – clearly very strong in my parents – that said the only way to get beyond this horror is to transcend it by some means. And this love, which both of them clung to, is a special example of transcendence – of termination and transcendence.” (See the video for more of this interview).
It’s easy to see how this filmmaker’s first novel will make an equally beautiful movie, already written and directed by Gárdos. The story is constructed around the real letters between the author’s parents when they first made contact in 1945. Ten years ago, after his father’s death, his mother handed Gárdos a bundle of carefully preserved letters and we can be thankful that they survived. Fever at Dawn has already drawn rave reviews from around the world, including award-winning Australian writer Joan London describing Fever at Dawn as “a magnificent novel, totally flawless, its humour defiant in the face of vast tragedy.”