At some point in our life, many of us have dreamed of taking the leap and moving abroad to a new country. In Jessica Keener’s new novel, Strangers in Budapest, we meet Will and Annie Gordon, a young couple from Boston, who are brave enough to make this dream a reality.
The year is 1995, and Hungary is now rebuilding after the fall of communism. For Will, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set up a communications business in Budapest, and tap into the unfathomable progress that is bound to follow. For Annie, supporting her husband in this endeavor is a no-brainer, but secretly she is more excited about exploring a new city void of her sad past, and bonding with her adopted infant son, Leo.
Keener starts the story when Will and Annie have already been in Budapest for eight months. The spell of a new city has long worn off, and their reality mostly includes putting up with bureaucracy and cultural differences that have yet to catch up with the changing times. A diversion comes when a mysterious fax from their old neighbor in Boston begs Will and Annie to check on a man named Edward Weiss.
Edward is old, frail and, from what Will and Annie can tell, perpetually pissed off. Will is happy to check on him this once, as requested, and move on, but Annie is oddly drawn to Edward’s rude and brutally honest temperament. She keeps going back to see him and eventually finds herself tangled up in a vendetta that the old man refuses to let go.
Keener expertly weaves together a story that not only showcases an expat life, but also shares the tragedies, memories and grudges of strangers in a beautiful city who are more connected than they have come to believe.