Eclipse Of The Crescent Moon-Geza Gardonyi   Leave a comment

This is a novel from the ‘1001 books to read before you die’ list, which I am trying to complete. This was a book I had previously never heard of, but reading the synopsis, it sounded like a great adventure story.

The book was first published in 1899 and in 2005 it was voted most popular novel in Hungary. During my research, I found it was often regarded as a children’s book mainly because it is often read as part of the school curriculum.

The story is set around the siege of the fortified town of Eger, by the Ottomans in 1552. The Hungarian title is literally, ‘Stars of Eger’. The novel opens some 20 years earlier with the capture of 2 small children, by a passing Turk on horseback, Jumurdszak, who recurs throughout the book as Gergely’s nemesis. We follow their captivity on a wagon-train of prisoners and then their daring escape and return home soon after. This establishes Gergely’s bravery, initiates his lifelong problems with Jumurdszak and directly changes his life.

These children, Gergely and Eva, become the main characters in the novel. We follow them as they grow up, and maintain their love for each other, finally eloping in order to marry. Eva then follows Gergely to Eger in order to pass on important information and they experience part of the siege together.

Gergely Bornemissza was a real historical person, and although his early life is fictional, his role in the siege of Eger is accurate. Eva, his lover and wife is also a fictional addition, based on Gardonyi’s perfect woman. Gardonyi also includes an accurate description of the bloodless occupation of Buda.

It is however, Gardonyi’s description of the Ottomans, an empire which no longer exists in our lifetime, which is most interesting for us. The Ottoman Empire collapsed following the end of WW1, and Gardonyi would have been very familiar with it. He carefully describes the different cultures and their roles in the structure. The different costumes each type of soldier wore and their job. His description of the parade of the Sultan and the miles of soldiers and musicians both before and after is apparently brilliantly accurate.

The story is perhaps a little drawn out in parts, but is a real boy’s own type adventure. The additional details which are available to pick up regarding Hungary and the Ottomans make and slow sections well worth wading through.

I loved the book, the love story is traditional and romantic, and the men full of honour and pride, living for their country and ready to die for it. I felt it had echoes of Sir Walter Scott and early medieval chivalry in many places. I loved the history I learned about Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. I am not convinced many children in England would get through it, but as an adult read, it is 4 star!

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