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Castles Burning: A Child's Life in War

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  162 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
There are few figures in literature as riveting as the precocious nine-year-old Magda Denes who narrates this story. Her stubborn self-command and irrepressible awareness of the absurd make her in her mother's eyes "impossibly sarcastic, bigmouthed, insolent, and far too smart" for her own good. When her family goes into hiding from the fascist Arrow-Cross, she is torn fro ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published March 19th 1998 by Simon & Schuster (first published January 1st 1997)
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The Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankNight by Elie WieselSarah's Key by Tatiana de RosnayNumber the Stars by Lois Lowry
World War II/Holocaust Fiction & Non-fiction
177th out of 522 books — 508 voters
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Memoirs Worth Reading
8th out of 157 books — 16 voters

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Community Reviews

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Dr. Magda Dénes, a Psychoanalyst and Psychotherapist practicing in NY, passed away suddenly at the end of 1996, aged 62. Her autobiographical Castles Burning was due to be published a couple of months later.

The book begins in 1939 in Budapest, as Magda’s father leaves for the US and abandons his family. They were a wealthy Jewish family of four. The narration advances fast onto March 1944 when the Nazis, who were already losing the war, occupied the city to prevent Hungary from changing sides. C
Martha Kelly
Jul 12, 2016 Martha Kelly rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended to me by my developmental editor Alexandra Shelley, Castles Burning did not disappoint. Told from a child's point of view, it brings the period so vividly alive and is poignant, heartbreaking and funny. Having read so many Holocaust books for research, this one really stands out--maybe because Magda was able to capture that voice of her youth so beautifully. It's non-fiction but reads like fiction. I still think about this book often.
Oct 27, 2009 Nick rated it really liked it
Magda Denes was a Jewish child in Hungary during World War II. These are reminiscences (as opposed to a diary) of hiding in abominable quarters, hunger, escape, the kindness and cruelty of strangers and acquaintances alike, and the loss of family members. When people encourage me to attend horror movies, I suggest they read this book instead: nothing I've ever seen in a film horrifies me as much as what these people and this child suffered.
Irving Koppel
Apr 25, 2016 Irving Koppel rated it liked it

Denes' book regarding her war-time adventures in Budapest could have used a good deal of editing,
but in spite of that,with a little patience one can find a fascinating tale of life under the Hungarian
and German fascists as seen through the eyes of a most precocious child.
There are many better written tales of survivors of the Nazi occupation,but this one stands out for its
treatment of the Hungarian Jews
May 17, 2015 Raphaelle rated it it was amazing
Earlier today someone reminded me of this excellent book. This memoir was written by a psychologist who perfectly captures her childhood perspective as Jewish child in Hungary during the Nazi era. The author died soon after the book's publication so it never got the publicity it deserves. I wish I could give it six stars!
Sharon Zink
Aug 31, 2014 Sharon Zink rated it it was amazing
This book leaped off the shelf at the library last Monday and yelled, "I'm next!" So happy for books to find me like that. This is the story of a Hungarian-Jewish girl who survives World War II, but not in a concentration camp. It is not a depressing story; it is funny in many places.
Aug 27, 2008 John rated it it was amazing
I found this book extremely moving and honest. The thing that really makes it stand out from other books set during the holocaust is that its such a vivid, at times even hilarious account of childhood. With the horrific and crazy events turning her family's life upside down we get a child's reaction to these events and her indignant, persistent desire to be treated like a human being and to evolve. One senses that the author avoids giving her account the tone of an adult recalling her childhood ...more
May 05, 2015 Joan rated it really liked it
"It's all right to hope. In fact, it's essential. There would be no world otherwise." Just one quote from this moving, often funny, and always unforgettable memoir of a young Hungarian Jew during World War II. Magda, her mother, and brother were abandoned by her father just before war came to Budapest; left with her grandmother, aunt and cousin they must fend for themselves. This is their story, one of hiding, scrounging for food, their city devastated by both Allies and Germans, and their final ...more
Margrit Belfi
May 20, 2014 Margrit Belfi rated it really liked it
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Geestelijk vroeg rijp kind
Aug 15, 2013 Veronique rated it it was amazing
An amazingly readable book about a very dark time in Europe's history. Denes recounts her life as a Jewish child in Budapest in the 1940s, from the days leading up to the war to the darkest moments in hiding. She somehow manages to make the book lighthearted at points, showing that even in times of war there is still humanity and love. A truly inspirational book with lots of passages I highlighted and plan to re-read for inspiration.
Edwina Hall Callan
Jan 18, 2014 Edwina Hall Callan rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-book, 2010
World War 2 as seen thru the eyes of a child.
Riveting and heartbreaking.
It didn't interest me like I thought it would have.
Oct 25, 2008 Leslie added it
I loved this book which I read to get some sense of Budapest as we were getting ready to travel there. It is a Holocaust Memorial but it is such a delightful and heartfelt perspective from a child grieving terrible losses that it made me wish the author would write a sequel.
Rex Cluff
Mar 20, 2013 Rex Cluff rated it it was amazing
Excellent book with a disappointing ending. Magda ends her story with her arrival in Cuba but that is far from the end of her troubles. Getting out of Cuba and into the U.S. would seem like a better ending but we don't know what happened after she arrived in Cuba.
Feb 28, 2011 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great literary adventure through the eyes of a precocious child, who likes to tell it like it is. I always have respect for any person who has that quality and Magda is no exception. A tale of heroism, survival, betrayal, and coping.
Oct 04, 2014 Geraldine rated it liked it
Wartime Hungary - an adult woman remembering her experiences as a child - and what a character she was as a girl - so clear eyed and sarcastic I had to smile even though her experiences were terrible.
Kerry Leigh
Dec 03, 2013 Kerry Leigh rated it it was amazing
The best, most descriptive and compelling book about a young child's life during Nazi occupation of Budapest, Hungary that I've ever read.
Allie vernasco
Feb 26, 2008 Allie vernasco rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Great memoir of a young Hungarian Jewish girl during WWII. She tells of her heartache from missing her family during various separations.
Holly Woodward
Apr 05, 2015 Holly Woodward rated it it was amazing
This was one of the most searingly honest memoirs I've ever had the pleasure of reading.
Jan 06, 2012 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1history, box5
Interesting narrative but not super informative. Less on detail than on emotion.
Jan 08, 2008 Kim rated it liked it
Interesting and moving account of a jewish childs life in WWII.
Ann Costello
Feb 09, 2011 Ann Costello rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this. Fascinating childhood told well.
Jul 21, 2008 hillary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
hungarian girl's experiences during WWII
Jun 02, 2010 Nicole rated it liked it
insightful, sad, and revealing.
Mar 21, 2012 Catherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is my favourite book of all time.
Apr 02, 2011 Rachel rated it it was amazing
An amazing story!
Jane marked it as to-read
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