Volume 74, Number 23 | Octuber 6 - 12 , 2004

Talking Point

The echo-boomers, and just plain echoes

By Andrei Codrescu

Morley Safer from “60 Minutes” sent me a book called “Nine Suitcases” by Bella Zsolt. It’s the memoir of a cafe-going, fun-loving young citizen of Budapest who had a wife and many friends and was a writer. He spent a lot of time in the cafes discussing the ominous signs of the times and having drinks. Then came an unsuccessful revolution and Bella found himself in a Ukrainian prison camp where he worked digging graves into the frozen ground at 20 below zero. He survived savage beatings and the typhus and returned to Budapest just in time to see the Hungarian fascists begin to kill Jews. He gathered his wife and escaped to France lugging nine suitcases that were almost lost. If they had been lost, the couple might have gone on to Spain and perhaps to America.

As it was, his wife refused to part with her stuff and they ended up following their suitcases back to Budapest, where the local gendarmes rounded them up to send to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. Bella survived to write his memoir, but his wife’s only daughter and both his and her parents were gassed in the death camp. His wife committed suicide shortly after the war. Zsolt’s plain and unsparing account cuts to the bone, it makes you look at the news differently.

I met Morley Safer when he came to New Orleans to talk to me about Romania, a country that, just like Hungary, got poisoned by history. Tonight on “60 Minutes” they had a segment about the generation born between 1980 and the mid-’90s, the so-called “echo-boomers.” These kids described themselves as impatient, on top of things, and attached to their cellphones and iPods. They had no complaints about the social order and didn’t care about politics. To me they looked conformist and clueless, lost without their gadgets.

The point, I guess (besides dropping names) is that Bella Zsolt’s pre-war generation reminds me of these echo-boomers. They too were smart, accomplished, bourgeois, they loved their stuff, and didn’t know what to do when hell broke loose.


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