In an interview in Harper's, Makkai explains: "When I began putting together Music for Wartime, I decided I wanted these family legends sprinkled throughout the fiction. In the collection, they come at you separately, so that as you read you're not just getting my short stories, but also some of my own psychology, the reasons a young American writer would be drawn to write fiction about refugees and war zones."
"The Museum of the Dearly Departed" is a longer story with an elderly Hungarian couple in a supporting role. Laslo and Zsuzsi (a Holocaust survivor) were away in Cleveland when everyone else in their Chicago apartment building died during a gas leak. The story is about Melanie, whose fiance Michael was one of the people who died, nine weeks before their wedding. He was in bed with Vanessa, his ex-wife, in an apartment Melanie learned about when it was left to her in Michael's will.
"Melanie waited for some dramatic feeling to wash over her. But she hadn't registered much emotion that summer, unless numb was an emotion. Grief would be an embarrassing surrender, considering the new facts. Rage was inappropriate, given Michael's death. The two reactions had stalemated each other. She was an abandoned chessboard."
Zsuzsi consoles Melanie by telling her about Rigo Jansci, a Hungarian cake named for an adulterer. (I'm going to make one of these chocolate mousse cakes. Sounds delicious.)
|Photo source and recipe at: East European Food|
In "Couple of Lovers on a Red Background," Johann Bach climbs out of a woman's piano and moves in with her. "He's fond of Mozart, unsurprisingly, but for some reason Tchaikovsky makes him giggle."
I highly recommend this collection.