FEVER AT DAWN
Love is the best medicine.
July 1945. Miklos is a twenty-five-year-old Hungarian who has survived the camps and has been brought to Sweden to convalesce. His doctor has just given him a death sentence — his lungs are filled with fluid and in six months he will be gone. But Miklos has other plans. He didn’t survive the war only to drown from within, and so he wages war on his own fate. He acquires the names of the 117 Hungarian women also recovering in Sweden, and he writes a letter to each of them in his beautiful cursive hand.
Love is the best medicine.
July 1945. Miklos is a twenty-five-year-old Hungarian who has survived the camps and has been brought to Sweden to convalesce. His doctor has just given him a death sentence — his lungs are filled with fluid and in six months he will be gone. But Miklos has other plans. He didn’t survive the war only to drown from within, and so he wages war on his own fate. He acquires the names of the 117 Hungarian women also recovering in Sweden, and he writes a letter to each of them in his beautiful cursive hand. One of these women, he is sure, will become his wife.
In another part of the country, Lili reads his letter and decides to write back. For the next few months, the two engage in a funny, absurd, hopeful epistolary dance. Eventually, they find a way to meet.
Based on the true story of Péter Gárdos’s parents, and drawn from their letters, Fever at Dawn is a vibrant, ribald, and unforgettable tale, showing the death-defying power of the human will to live and to love.
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- April 2016
- 240 Pages
“Fever at Dawn has the sweetness of The Rosie Project and the pathos of The Fault in our Stars. Better still, it is based on a true story, that of the author’s parents who found love in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the horrors of World War II….Verdict: a book to fall in love with.” —The Herald Sun
“Will make you like life more when you’ve finished.” —The Bookseller (UK)
“On the surface Fever at Dawn may seem a harrowing tale of survival and suffering, but in this remarkable book the Holocaust merely provides the backdrop for the most improbable of true-life love stories….There is a timeless quality to Fever at Dawn, a kind of classical romanticism….Gardos’s fascinating novel is sure to become a staple in book clubs.” —The Australian
“Fever at Dawn belongs to the canon of extraordinary true stories about love and war and the power of letters. Dramatic, compassionate and deeply moving, this unforgettable story reminds us that the Holocaust is not only history it’s a warning.”—Jennifer Clement, author of Prayers for the Stolen
Discuss the author’s decision to narrate the novel from Miklós’s son’s perspective. Why does the son narrate from his father’s perspective? At what point do you know who the narrator’s mother is? What kind of narrative distance does this create and how did it affect your reading?
The events of the novel are based on a true story. Did you know this before you started reading? If so, how did it affect your reading of the story? Why do you think the author chose to write this as a novel instead of as nonfiction?
Did you learn anything new historically from reading this novel? What surprised you?
Why did Miklós persist in writing his letters? What did they mean to him?
The opening chapter depicts “an army of women” on bicycles delivering freshly baked biscuits for the survivors arriving in Sweden. What other random acts of kindness are described in the novel? How do these contribute to the novel as a whole?
The author, Péter Gárdos, is also a filmmaker. Where could you see evidence of this in the writing?
The doctor gives Miklós very specific measures to guide him toward health: weight, temperature, X-ray results. How does this contrast with Miklós’s nature as a poet? What does his temperature each morning come to mean to him — i.e., why is the novel called Fever at Dawn?
What are Miklós’s politics before and after the war? Does Lili share these views? Do his fellow Hungarians or the Swedes? (Does it matter?)
Talk about the idea of hope. What does it do for Miklós and Lili? How does hope help (or harm) us as humans in such extreme situations? Are there any other stories of hope that this story reminded you of?
After Lili and Miklós finally meet, the author writes, “But they never spoke about certain important things. Neither then, nor later.” Why do you think they both silently, but mutually, agreed to do this? What do you think avoiding these topics meant for them and their relationship?
Lili and Miklós each have their own group of friends whom they confide in about the letters. How did these friendships affect their letter-writing and relationship? And how were Lili and Miklós’s friends influenced by their love story?
Why do you think Judit betrayed Lili to the rabbi? Why didn’t she want Lili and Miklós to get together? Were you sympathetic to her at all? How do you think the traumatic events she’s suffered affect her choices here? How did their experiences of the war change — or not — all of these characters?
What role do you think humor plays in Lili and Miklós’s relationship?