In a Big Ugly House Far from Here...
Claudia Cornwall was a Vancouver writer.
In a Big Ugly House Far from Here relates the experiences of Magdi, growing up in Budapest during the bombing of that city in the Second World War. There is destruction everywhere. By the end of the book, Magdi’s house has only three of its original five stories. The roof is gone and the walls gape. Still, human interaction, in its sometimes crazy, sometimes poignant, sometimes cruel, and often funny way, goes on. Magdi tells us about the characters who inhabit the devastated world of a city under bombardment. There is Mr. Friedman, the candy-seller who hates kids. The kids return his feelings with relish. They plot tricks on him which become more and more elaborate until one day Magdi sees him racked by a horrible cough. Realizing his vulnerability, her hatred is replaced by pity. We meet Aunt Lola, a lonely old lady who keeps a chicken as a pet. She fantasizes about having been a beautiful ballerina sought after by kings and millionaires. Once she embarrasses Magdi by volunteering to dance for her. There is Mr. Kazy, a retired bank clerk liked by everyone. As the result of shell-shock suffered in the First World War, he is completely deaf and dumb. Until the fateful day of the “The Godsend Bomb.” After a fierce fire-bombing attack, Mr. Kazy rushes to tell the other inhabitants of the house where he was when the bomb hit and how he escaped being struck. He is halfway through an excited narrative when suddenly he realizes that both his hearing and his voice have been restored. In the midst of ruins, rejoicing ensues!
In a Big Ugly House Far from Here is enjoyable because of the way interesting people illuminate a bleak setting. The illustrations, as intricate as some Hungarian embroidery, complement the story.