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'The Choice': Film Review
Thank you! Your subscription to Read More was successful. To help us recommend your next book, tell us what you enjoy reading. Add your interests. When I get to school, the tuition money my father gave me to cover an entire quarter of school is gone. Somehow, in the flurry of dancing, I have lost it. I check every pocket and crease of my clothing, but it is gone.
All day the dread of telling my father burns like ice in my gut. This is the first time he has ever hit me, or any of us. In bed that night I wish to die so that my father will suffer for what he did to me. And then I wish my father dead. Do these memories give me an image of my strength? Or of my damage? It took me many decades to discover that I could come at my life with a different question.
Not: Why did I live?
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Before World War I, the Slovakian region where I was born and raised was part of Austro-Hungary, but in , a decade before my birth, the Treaty of Versailles redrew the map of Europe and created a new state. And my family became double minorities. We were ethnic Hungarians living in a predominately Czech country, and we were Jewish. Even then, city officials, backed by Christian trade guilds, made it difficult for Jewish families who wanted to live there.
But we still encountered prejudice, subtle and explicit. Growing up, I internalized a sense of inferiority and the belief that it was safer not to admit that I was Jewish, that it was safer to assimilate, to blend in, to never stand out. It was difficult to find a sense of identity and belonging. She has draped an Oriental rug across the railing. We belong!
Today I, too, welcome Horthy. I perform a dance. I wear a Hungarian costume: bold floral embroidery on a bright wool vest and skirt, billowing white-sleeved blouse, ribbons, lace, red boots. When I do the high kick by the river, Horthy applauds. He embraces the dancers. He embraces me. Hungarian citizenship has brought belonging in one sense but exclusion in another. We are so happy to speak our native tongue, to be accepted as Hungarians—but that acceptance depends on our assimilation.
Neighbors argue that only ethnic Hungarians who are not Jewish should be allowed to wear the traditional garments. She brings me details, often troubling things, to study and ponder. They spit at Magda.
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They evict us. The apartment is available because its former occupants, another Jewish family, have left for South America. We know of other Jewish families leaving Hungary. She lives in New York, in a place called the Bronx, in a Jewish immigrant neighborhood. Her life in America seems more circumscribed than ours. Not at first. We use denial as protection. We can make the world safe in our minds. We can make ourselves invisible to harm. But one day in June , Magda is out on her bicycle when the sirens roar. They survived, thank God. It was a singular attack, one neighborhood razed by one bombing.
No one believes it, and yet no one can refute it. We are lucky and vulnerable in the same instant. The only solid truth is the pile of smashed brick in the spot where a house used to be. Destruction and absence—these become facts. Hungary joins Germany in Operation Barbarossa.
We invade Russia. Around this time we are made to wear the yellow star. The trick is to hide the star, to let your coat cover it.
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But even with my star out of sight, I feel like I have done something bad, something punishable. What is my unpardonable sin? My mother is always near the radio. When we picnic by the river, my father tells stories about being a prisoner of war in Russia during World War I. I know that war is at the root of his distress. But the war, this war, is still elsewhere. I can ignore it, and I do. After school, I spend five hours at the ballet studio, and I begin to study gymnastics too. Though it begins as a complementary practice to the ballet, gymnastics soon grows to be an equal passion, an equal art.
I see him looking closely at me every time I speak. I imagine Versailles. I imagine meeting Eric there. I know nothing about sex, but I am romantic. I see him notice me, and I wonder, What would our children look like? Would they have freckles too? Eric approaches me after the discussion. Our relationship holds weight and substance from the start. We talk about literature.
We talk about Palestine he is a devoted Zionist. This is love in the face of war. A curfew has been imposed on Jews, but we sneak out one night without wearing our yellow stars.
We stand in line at the cinema. We find our seats in the dark.
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Bette Davis plays an unmarried daughter tyrannized by her controlling mother. Eric sees it as a political metaphor about self-determination and self-worth. The battles in my family, the front with Russia closing in—we never know what is coming next.