The Bone Fire by György Dragomán is a fascinating YA fantasy from Hungary and I am so glad it was translated! This is unlike any other young adult books I have read and I can say it is quite a slap: powerful, real, and phantasmagorical. I love it.
I know little about the history of Hungary, but I know the damage of communism, dictatorship, hidden/open histories of violence layers on top of each other, and a very rich folklore and superstition. All of this is in the book, and I think that reading it from the outside, not knowing the history well, plunging into this book set after the fall of communism and its head dictator strikingly resonates like all those dystopian novels we know of recently. It feels like it is something that could not happen, a world too harsh and cold, and yet this year has taught us that things can change in the snap of our fingers. That violence is here, everywhere around us, people are intolerant and always lash out on the “other” when they feel winds turning, and that nothing is as simple as it might first appear.
The book is chock full of magical realism, that brand where you do not quite know if the magic is real or if it is the emotions choking the narrator, distorting her view of the real world because it is so hard to cope, in fact it is impossible to cope to the harsh reality without going a little mad. It reminded me of Jo Walton’s “Among Others”, if you liked that book, rush into “The bone fire”. It deals with a lot of grief, the multi-generation kind, the whole country’s kind, and the hard teen years where you grow and learn the truth you don’t want to but have to take in as well.
This is not a book for the faint hearted. The world in those pages is unforgiving, but it is our world, not a single doubt about it, it is our emotions, it speaks so much truth it hurts, showing how regular people can turn real ugly, and how courage is sometimes just surviving.
This is a very powerful book, but the writing is cold, it reminded me somehow of “Let the Right One In” by John Ajvide Lindqvist, not for the youngest set at all, not the easiest book to slide into, but it leaves you feeling like you have gone through some transformation yourself.
I highly recommend it to people over 16 wanting to widen their horizon, no matter what genre you like. Because while it might be classified like fantasy, it felt so very real, and has so much to say about humanity in general, much more than many contemporary tales. It made me want to know a lot more about Hungary too.