This is on the 1001 Books list simply because it is a Hungarian classic chronicling the successful defence of Eger Castle from the Ottoman Turks by a vastly outnumbered army.
My main interest in it was the siege itself as I’ve visited Eger, which is a lovely town with some stunning Baroque architecture, and remember well our visit to the castle and the tales we heard there of its defence.
But Gardonyi is no Max Hastings. Anyone coming here looking for historical accuracy is going to have to find another book to reference in order to sort the fact from the fiction. The novel was written by a Hungarian, for Hungarians, about Hungary. As anyone knows who has ever travelled there or spent much time talking to people from that lovely and unique nation, if Hungarians like to talk about anything, it’s Hungary.
Gardonyi is a national treasure and the siege of Eger a source of national pride that cannot be underestimated. Mix these two together and you’d be forgiven that thinking Eclipse is the sacred text of Hungary.
For that reason alone, the novel is important. This is a good thing because it’s not historically accurate nor is it particularly well-written. Gardonyi takes artistic license liberally to ensure that every Hungarian is a hero and every Turk a villain. This is so true to type that the Disney version has every villainous Turk speaking with a British accent.
While that last sentence wasn’t necessarily accurate, the impression you get of Gardonyi’s writing is that you are in fact reading a description of a Disney animation. That’s the best way I can describe it. There is a naivety about the descriptions of people and places, how everyone and every action is so clearly either good or evil, how melodrama suffuses everything, and how, despite apparently insuperable odds, everything turns out fine in the end.
If you’re going to visit Hungary or mix with Hungarians, you should definitely have read this before you do. It will give you an instant bond and help you understand that, deep down in every Hungarian heart, there’s at least a little drop of Bull’s Blood mixed with the human.