My grandparents survived the Holocaust, but they never talk about it. My childhood was filled with books like Number the Stars, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and Anne Frank’s diary. From these books I gathered an understanding that my grandparents lived through something so horrific that they simply wouldn’t speak of it. I, like many with immigrant families, knew that my grandparents had been lucky enough to escape persecution in order to provide their children, and then in time me, with a better life. However, I knew little of the actual story of my own relatives. Until recently. My grandfather loves to take on projects to keep himself occupied. At one time it was playing extras for the Hungarian Opera Company. More recently, however, when he’s not busy playing the role of my biggest blog fan, he has taken up the title of published author.
After reading about my search for the perfect indie bookshop, he suggested we visit his favorite bookstore when I next visited. Thus we found ourselves at Washington D.C.’s first Politics & Prose. It met some of my criteria he told me, or at least it contained a cafe. There was no bookstore cat unfortunately, but there was something better.
The Opus self-publishing machine.
After greeting the mechanic and asking for “the usual”, my grandfather began pointing to various parts of the mechanics. This is where the cover page will be printed, this is where the pages are printed…
When the pages and cover had indeed printed, they dropped together to the innards of the machine where they were glued together. It was fascinating to watch. Lastly, all the pages had to be chopped evenly.
Before long, out slid a brand new book. Literally hot off the press! Still warm to the touch, my grandfather handed me an autographed copy of his memoirs of 1944.
Throughout 1944 A Leap Year (a play on Hungarian words- lost on me) my grandfather relates this unfortunate period of his youth with infused humor, and never takes for granted his luck which never ran out. From the day he left home to report to a work camp, to the time he returned home, he endured abuse from soldiers, betrayal by acquaintances, jail time, distrust from civilians, sickness, and nights beneath the stars lost in the wilderness of Hungary and Austria. Somehow he never lost the cheeky confidence that helped him survive. For example, when he’d had enough of the terrible conditions within the first work camp, he and a friend tore the yellow stars off their shirts, buried them in the hay in their barrack, and counting the seconds as the guard marched the camp perimeter, escaped under the fence. And this is just the beginning. It truly is a thrilling tale. If you’d like to read it for yourself, you can find it on Amazon, along with his second book, about the escape from Communist Hungary.
With my family history warm in my hand, my grandfather found a chair while I browsed the rest of the bookstore. Traditionally this is something my grandfather and I do at Nordstroms each summer. He waits while I find one new outfit for the coming Fall. Wandering the bookstore, I soon found the travel section. Besides the requisite wall of Lonely Planet guide books, there was a large selection of adult coloring books! Perfect for keeping myself occupied during airplane travel days. It occurred to me, however, that it would be more convenient if the books were smaller, travel size, if you will. In another room I found those book-smelling candles I’d been longing for! I lifted the lids to smell them and each time wrinkled my nose. I guess I’ll strike those from my wishlist now.
When I’d exhausted the upstairs, we headed downstairs to the cafe and enjoyed warm beverages in the cozy atmosphere. Some people worked on laptops at the computer bar complete with outlets, but there was no wifi in the cafe. There were also signs stating, “No Cell Phones,” so mostly people were interacting with one another. (I wondered if like at Luke’s Diner in Gilmore Girls, people use them anyway.) While this isn’t exactly a conducive location for a travel blogger to work, it’s a great place to unplug while joining friends or family for a bite and a good conversation. Based on the fliers and posters on the cafe bulletin board, I gathered that this cafe also doubled as a neighborhood center. The menu was trendy-healthy. The options included foods with quinoa and other new hip super foods. A table over a father was reading Harry Potter aloud to his daughter and on the top of the book pile in front of them on the table was Anne of Green Gables. When we left, my grandfather and I went over and told them that I had just been to Prince Edward Island, and his daughter would love it. I hope he takes her some day.
I hadn’t time to explore the downstairs rooms where bookshelves covered all the walls and large study tables in the middle of the small rooms were in use. I left these for another day. It was time to rejoin the rest of the family.
Have you self published a book? Have you considered putting your own story in book form? Let’s discuss in the comments below!
*This post is dedicated to my grandfather, Peter Varadi.*
If you’re now thinking about self-publishing with Politics & Prose, follow this link here.
If you’d like to read Leap Year, buy it on Amazon here.
*This post contains some affiliate links, meaning I’ll make a small commission which will go towards hosting fees for this blog!