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Or why you can’t let a historical novelist near your family history.
Last week I posted a blog about my grandmother, Dr Lilla Veszy Wagner (Anyuka). This has caused a certain amount of controversy in my family and on one particular point I think they are absolutely right.
I said that I thought my grandfather, Counsellor Matyas Veszy (Apuka), had kept kosher all his life – which would mean of course that his conversion to Christianity was not sincere and that in his heart he was still Jewish.
Well I’ve been told by my siblings in no uncertain terms that this is wrong: Apuka’s conversion to Christianity was as sincere and faith-based as Anyuka’s and there is plenty of family oral evidence to show that he ate bacon and pork and documentary evidence to show he was an active member of the Reformed Church in Hungary. It’s also clear from many of my mother’s stories that he felt he had a very special relationship with Jesus Christ, who would always look after him and his family.
Worse still, as my brother has pointed out, to have pretended to be a Christian would have been something he would have considered utterly dishonourable – and if my grandfather was anything, he was an honourable man. It was an integral and vital part of him. In Hungarian one word for “honour” is “tisztelet” which connects with “tiszta” which means “clean.” When he was asked to take the brief for Cardinal Mindszenty in the cardinal’s show trial under the Communists, that was the word Apuka used when he said (against the advice of his friends) that yes, it would be an honour. Mindszenty wasn’t allowed a lawyer in the show trial so Apuka didn’t appear. It was dangerous enough just to take the brief.
So I got that spectacularly wrong and I’m sorry.
Why did I get it so wrong? Well because I’m a novelist not a historian which means I dig around in the great and wonderful quarry of history and when I bring up something interesting or when I find a few little clues that might point to something interesting, I grab them and weave all sorts of speculations and stories around them which might later turn into a novel. I’m doing something similar at the moment with the character of Fr. John Gerrard – a 16th century Catholic priest. That’s fine: a 16th century Catholic priest doesn’t have any descendants to be upset by the stuff I’m making up about him (probably).
I can’t do that with my grandfather. So I’ll start digging and researching now, despite the fact that my Hungarian can’t even cope with children’s stories yet, and document everything as thoroughly as I can. Maybe I’ll write my mother’s story as non-fiction, maybe I’ll do it as fiction if I can’t find what I need – but it’ll be clearly labelled as one or the other.
No more half-arsed speculations.

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