Reading this book reminds you of how lucky we are to live on an island and be subjects of a benign parliamentary democracy, and so not be at the mercy of marauding armies or the whims of ruthless communist dictators.
The aristocracy of Transylvania were not so lucky. Their fate, as told in this book, is a harrowing one, as well as a cautionary tale of how one can have everything one day and nothing the next. It was in 1945 that things started to go terribly wrong. Patrick Leigh Fermor, just a few years before, had drifted through their gilded lives, staying with them for months in their porticoed country houses, where he was seduced by their charmed existence in the leafy hills and misty valleys by the Mureş river. There is quite a contrast between Leigh Fermor’s lyrical descriptions of their happy prewar years as recounted in Between the Woods and the Water and what happened soon after.
In 1945 the Russians came through. Transylvania was just a staging post for them – they were pursuing Hitler’s retreating army all the way to Germany – but for the local people this made little difference. Their quiet life abruptly ended. One lady from a Transylvanian noble family, Alaine Polcz,