Miklos is looking for a wife. Having suffered horrific suffering in Belsen concentration camp, he finds himself taken to Sweden for medical care. Whilst in his hospital bed he decides to write to the women from his home village who are also convalescing in Sweden, all 117 of them. He intends to find a wife. And he’s not going to let the fact that he’s just been told he has six months to live get in his way.
This story is based on the author’s parents and how they met so you can guess how it ends. This isn’t a spoiler though as the story is more about the story of how they get together, than whether they get together.
There are times in this book when it’s charm takes over and you almost forget it sets set against the backdrop of one of the worst times in human history. Peter Gardos weaves the romance of how Miklos and Lili meet and fall in love, in with the glimpses of the darker story of what led them to be convalescing in Sweden. The horrors of the war and their separate internment in Belsen is almost too much for them to talk about, and indeed when they do meet, one of the scenes mentions the things that they don’t discuss.
Miklos is a very strong willed character. He refuses to believe that he has only months to live and refuses to believe that he won’t be able to meet the woman who will become his wife. He writes to a number of women who responded to his first letter but has his sights on Lili and is determined to meet her, not concerned with the fact that he is in ill health and that Lili is at the other side of the country. He has socialist ideals, which he tries to explain in his letters to Lili.
It is a romantic story, though not overtly so. Miklos’ gifts show more thought and care than flowers or chocolates could and they give each other the gift of hope, something which had been sorely lacking from their lives in the previous years. Their romance is one of letters, falling for each other from a distance, indeed, falling in love with an idea rather than reality at first. But it is a love that once formed stands the test of time for the real Miklos and Lili remained together until Miklos’ death decades later.
This is a lovely, moving tale, made all the more so by the fact it is based on a true story. Fever at Dawn is a simply told story but this is as it should be. Whilst artistic licence has been taken, Peter Gardos has written a beautiful tribute to his parents and shows that even in the shadow of great tragedy and adversity, hope and love can still shine through.