"Hungary was not a happy country in 1956," writes Miklos Sajben. "People had had enough of being told what to do and say. They were tired of being forced to mouth party dogma. The Poles and the Czechs were stirring, and the fires of discontent spread like a forest blaze after a six-month drought. They reached Budapest and I watched the country burst into flames."
There are some eerie parallels between the recent events in Iran and the ferment in Hungary back then. The Russian occupiers "lowered the boom" by executing some members of the Hungarian cabinet and installed a new cabinet that "declared to the world that everything was under control." The revolts in the streets, Sajben writes, were at first "in the hands of students and intellectuals" but soon became disorganized. In just a few weeks, the revolution was all but crushed.
Sajben managed to escape and emigrate to the United States. His compelling story is told in "Dancing Boots and Pigs' Feet: Memoir of a Refugee from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956" ($14 in paperback from lulu.com). The book is available locally at Lyon Books in Chico.
Focusing on his growing-up years in Hungary, the author, who received a doctorate from MIT and who now lives in Chico, recalls the importance of family life. His working-class father obtained pigs, and pork became a staple. "Some parts of the feet," Sajben writes, "became the main ingredients of a dish called kocsonya. Pieces of the pig's feet were boiled in spiced broth for a long time and eventually allowed to solidify into a jelly-like substance. The dish was served cold, with paprika sprinkled on top." But what was "stupendously tasty": "Cubed kidney with brain sauce."
Sajben became a talented folk dancer in eighth grade with the encouragement of a new teacher, but turned away from the stage to pursue engineering. The book includes the author's drawings and family photographs and it's replete with Sajben's dry humor: One doesn't stand in line in Hungary to get precious goods; one forms a "circular queue" to get as close as one can using one's knees and elbows. In America it's hard to tell "when the movie stops and the commercial starts."
An amazing life, well told.