Harvill Secker, £12, 183pp. £10.80 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

An Exclusive Love, By Johanna Adorján, trans. Anthea Bell

An Exclusive Love is Johanna Adorján's homage to her grandparents, Istvá* and Vera, who, on 13 October 1991 committed suicide at their home in Denmark. Hungarian Jews, and survivors of the Holocaust, they were forced to flee their native country with two small children during the uprising of 1956.

By 1991, Istvá* is seriously ill and has been given only a few months to live. Vera, in good health herself, decides that life without him would be unbearable. She sets about trying to purchase Final Exit, a guide to committing suicide published in the US. But the book is not yet openly available in Europe and Vera has to persuade a friend to send her a copy.

In an attempt to understand this enigmatic couple's past and their mutual pact, Adorjá* talks to relatives and friends and sifts through their meagre papers looking for clues. She also visits Mauthausen, the "extermination through labour" camp where Istvá* was incarcerated in 1944.

Vera's survival in Budapest is barely touched upon – she had forged papers. Istvá* never talked about his time in the camp, and was also unforthcoming about his experiences working as a doctor in the Korean War in 1952. It was during his seven months in Korea, Adorjá* learns, that Vera told a friend she would kill herself if her husband didn't return.

A lot is left to Adorján's imagination, including the couple's final days together, which she tenderly recreates: how they take their beloved dog to a friend, wrap up their family heirlooms as Christmas presents, tend the roses in their garden, and their final meal – weak tea and toast. After their deaths, Adorjá* discovers a note in her grandmother's hand: "A perfectly normal to-do list for their suicide." But "How do two people feel on their last day alive?"

Adorjá* suggests that it is Vera's "exclusive love" for Istvá* that compels her to want to die with him. It struck me that the fact they "escaped death by the skin of their teeth" 40 years earlier might also have contributed to their desire to choose, of their own free will, the moment, place and method of their death. We shall never know. Yet despite Adorján's admirable research, I couldn't help but feel frustrated that her subjects remain, to the last, just out of reach.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices