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Under Budapest
Under Budapest

Under Budapest

Ailsa Kay lays out the literary equivalent of a jigsaw puzzle in Under Budapest, bringing into stark relief the triumphs, calamities, and desperation of two North American Hungarian families and those whose lives they've touched.

There's Agnes and Tibor, mother and son, travelling to Hungary for reasons they keep to themselves, he to recover from a disastrous love affair, she to search for a sister gone missing during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. There's Janos, a self-styled player and petty thug, who schemes to make it rich in post-communist Hungary. And there's Gyula and Zsofi, caught up in a revolution that will change the face of Hungary forever. Their lives are all connected by a conflagration of events: The legacy of wartime violence, past allegiances, long-buried rivalries, and secrets from the past.

Through riveting narratives that spring back and forth through time, Under Budapest captures the drama and ravages of the Hungarian Revolution and the eras that followed. A dark ode to memory, Kay's intimate spectacle demonstrates that actions have consequences, that the past cannot be shaken, that all events can carry the possibility of repercussion.


Ailsa Kay fell in love with Budapest on a 2004 visit and has since lived there off and on for short intervals. She has taught writing at college and university where she has learned from her students to laugh a lot, swear occasionally, and always risk that leap of faith. Kay's short fiction has appeared in literary journals such as Exile and the New Quarterly. After twenty years in Toronto, she recently returned to her hometown of Fergus, Ontario. Under Budapest is her first novel.

"Under Budapest becomes a riveting and tautly plotted historical drama. The author captures the frenzy and terror of the city as the Soviet tanks roll in, and the psychological impact the invasion has on her characters. Best of all, she never overplays the novel's chief metaphor: Budapest's tunnels, which act as stand-ins for the depths of human suffering and human endurance. Kay handles this symbolism like a seasoned pro." — Quill & Quire

"The Budapest imagined by Kay is not the city that tourists frequent. There is no sitting in turn-of-the-century cafes, no walks along the Danube, and definitely no postcard scenes of church towers and the wildly ornate parliament buildings. Right from the start, this Budapest is nasty, vicious, callous and brutal. ... Under Budapest is a page-turner whose author is a brilliant observer of realistic detail, an uncompromising presenter of some fascinating characters, and an interesting adapter of Hungarian slang. Kay is an exceptionally talented writer who moves with ease between past and present, and between the voices and perceptions, beliefs and deceptions of each of her characters." — National Post

"The result is her first novel spiced with suspence and history and with characters who linger on in the reader's imagination when the story ends. ... The author succeeds in her compelling novel, Under Budapest, to reveal much of what lies beneath. As her deftly woven story illustrates for the current generation, the past is rich in stories, secrets and lessons." — Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Issue 15

"Alisa Kay's grasp of this understanding of history and story makes Under Budapest a compelling read. ... her novel snakes like the Danube, with surprises around each bend." — Telegraph Journal

"This story is very well told, deftly folding in long flashbacks to create a neatly paced and very evocative recounting of the heady, scary, exhilarating times for the idealistic young people who tried without success to rid their country of its Soviet overlords. ... [A] fine sense of place with marvellous descriptions of the gritty venality lying beneath the city of postcards and travelogues, Kay's Budapest is populated by schemers and connivers, corrupt police and casually cruel young people. The book will not make anyone want to visit, which is to its credit." — Record

"In clean, often insightful prose, Kay's narrative moves seamlessly between past and present." — Coastal Spectator

"[A]n ambitious, multi-faceted plot, and a fast-paced ride through the dark side of Hungary that will leave you hungry for more of Kay's work." — Globe and Mail

"[A] family drama, a crime thriller, and a war novel all in one. ... an exceptional novel of family and war, of intimate loss and gain." — Winnipeg Review

264 pages
Pub date: April 9, 2013