BOOKS: BITTER WISDOM

IN WARTIME BUDAPEST A NOVEL FINDS UNSINKABLE HUMANITY

READ AS A WORK OF PURE IMAGInation, the powerfully written Holocaust chronicle that Hungarian author Janos Nyiri calls a novel (Battlefields and Playgrounds; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 536 pages; $25) has some inconsistencies. Most of these involve a too broad awareness of the military and political progression of the war, which might be appropriate to an adult survivor looking back at chaos, but not to the day-to-day fears of the young Jewish boy Jozska, eight years old at the war's outset, from whose point of view the story is told.

But if "novel" here simply means "fictional memoir," a warning that...

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