George Szirtes’s exceptional The Photographer at Sixteen is concerned mostly with the brief life of his mother, though he refrains from mentioning her name until halfway through the narrative. He affords his decent and honourable father the same respectful treatment: he is telling their stories backwards, discovering what kind of people they were in the tumultuous years before his birth. This method never smacks of contrivance. It is, rather, an act of love.
Szirtes was born in Hungary in 1948, eight years before Russian tanks entered Budapest to quell an anti-Soviet uprising. George’s father, Laszlo, was at first reluctant to leave the country. He had an important job in the Ministry of Construction, despite the fact that he was Jewish (Szirtes