Authorship, Publishing, Books and More

Wednesday Guest Author-Jill Culiner

It’s Wednesday and the last guest author for March and it’s Jill Culiner who tells us of her travel experiences and her need to find answers…

Writing, Adventure, and Often Tricky Places

Those Absent on the Great Hungarian Plain

by Jill Culiner

Today, I’d like to present my most recent release — Those Absent on the Great Hungarian Plain — a non-fiction history/essay/travelogue.

In 1999, I went to the town of Kunmadaras, Hungary, to investigate a pogrom that took place on May 1946 after Holocaust survivors were accused of kidnapping Christian children and using their blood for kosher sausage. How could such an absurd accusation have been levelled after the war? I was determined to discover the answer.

            When I arrived in Kunmadaras, I was accepted by a group of friendly locals: Klarika, the eternal party girl; the bibulous Karci; Tarzan, former black-marketeer and corrupt night watchman; Monika, Tarzan’s sullen Roma wife; Janci, the musician who refused Hungarian music in favour of elevator “noise”. Although none seemed to resent my questioning, all denied having any knowledge of the pogrom.

            I settled into a traditional adobe house in the neighbouring village of Tiszaörs, began learning the language and digging into the country’s history. I was lucky to be there at an auspicious moment, for village society was still a unique but uneasy mix. Former communist officials lived elbow-to-elbow with their victims — nobles who had lost their lands, Swabian survivors of post-war ethnic cleansing, expropriated peasants, German retirees, former members of the Hitler Youth Movement, Hungarians who had returned after communism ended, and locals who still believed that Jews needed the blood of Christian children.

            I remained in the country for six years, investigating, finding answers. What motivated me to do such a thing? Curiosity — the simple desire to know more. This has been the incentive for all I’ve done in my life: I went to live in Turkey simply because I found a cheap bus that would take me there; I lived in a Bavarian castle for nine years because I wanted to discover what life was like in the region; I began living in France because of a fascination with French rural life. I crossed Romania on foot because I was following in the footsteps of nineteenth-century immigrants.

Never did I think about danger or safety nets (health care, pensions, family, or working papers), and I now realize how lucky I’ve been. A whole lifetime of adventure has given me a wealth of stories — for the romance novels I write, but particularly for my non-fiction works. All I need is sufficient time to get everything down on paper.

When I describe the world around me, am I accurate? Who knows? But here’s quote from the brilliant Neal Ascherson’s book, Black Sea, from Pericles to Putin:

Autopsy, when the Greeks invented the word, meant seeing for oneself. It is a word about individualism and independence of mind, about the right to make up one’s own mind on the basis of what one’s own eyes have seen.

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