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Sebestyen, Victor 1956-

Sebestyen, Victor 1956-

PERSONAL:

Born 1956, in Budapest, Hungary.

ADDRESSES:

Home—London, England.

CAREER:

Writer, journalist, and historian. London Evening Standard, foreign editor, media editor, and chief writer. Worked on various British newspapers.

WRITINGS:

Twelve Days: Revolution 1956—How the Hungarians Tried to Topple Their Soviet Masters, Weidenfeld & Nicolson History (London, England), 2006 published as Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

Hungarian writer and journalist Victor Sebestyen recounts "one of the most heroic but saddest episodes of the cold war" in his book Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, noted Booklist reviewer Jay Freeman. In the years following World War II, the Soviets established a particularly oppressive and brutal regime in Hungary. In the aftermath of Josef Stalin's death in 1953, several Soviet-controlled Eastern European nations attempted to wrest themselves free of Communist occupation. "No uprising," remarked Jacob Heilbrunn in the New York Times Book Review, "proved more fateful than the 1956 Hungarian revolution," and in Twelve Days, Sebestyen "offers a gripping, detailed reconstruction of the revolution."

In October, 1956, a spontaneous uprising erupted among the Hungarian people. The revolution arose with no organization, no discernible leaders, and no plans for attack or outcome. In an atmosphere in which communism had taken over in Poland and Hungarians had come to hate their country's government, led by Matyas Rakosi, the Hungarian people dared to oppose the worst of communist power. Beginning with a student uprising at Budapest Technological University, the revolt quickly spread to urban guerilla warfare and outright street fighting. "It was the Hungarian people against a handful of local Stalinists, their secret police, the AVO, and the Red Army. The revolution was utterly unexpected, as was its success against the Soviet forces, who were ill-prepared for street-fighting and, as many of them knew they were fighting against ordinary workers and kids, had little appetite for the job," observed Tibor Fischer in the London Telegraph. No help came from other parts of the world: the British were occupied with the Suez Canal; the Americans, while offering vocal support, seemed perfectly willing to let the Soviets handle the matter however they wished; and the United Nations was unable to muster much assistance at all. What looked like a victory when the Red Army withdrew from Budapest ultimately became a crushing defeat when the military returned days later for a vicious counterattack. The revolt ended in the application of brute force and stifling repression. Sebestyen draws on newly available documentary evidence as he describes a multitude of heroes, villains, and actors in a doomed struggle for freedom against overwhelming odds.

"This is a remarkable study which employs recently released Hungarian and Soviet documents, numerous first person interviews, and scholarly research," commented John Davis in the Decatur Daily. Sebestyen "draws on most of the public sources judiciously and narrates the tangled history with clarity," noted Fischer. Spectator reviewer David Pryce-Jones called the book a "readable, and even exciting, blend of the scholarly with the journalistic, altogether a fitting commemoration of the drama of fifty years ago." Sebestyen himself is a refugee from the days of the Hungarian revolution, and he tells the story of the revolution "with power, insight, and grace," Davis concluded.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, October 15, 2006, Jay Freeman, review of Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, p. 20.

Book World, October 22, 2006, Andrew Nagorski, review of Twelve Days, p. 10.

Decatur Daily, November 12, 2006, John Davis, "Twelve Days of Heroism, Intrigue," review of Twelve Days.

Library Journal, October 1, 2006, David Keymer, review of Twelve Days, p. 90.

New York Review of Books, March 1, 2007, Istvan Deak, "Did the Revolution Have to Fail?," review of Twelve Days, p. 46.

New York Times Book Review, October 29, 2006, Jacob Heilbrunn, "The Rising," review of Twelve Days, p. 20.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 2007, review of Twelve Days.

Spectator, September 9, 2006, David Pryce-Jones, "When Hungary Set an Example," review of Twelve Days.

Telegraph (London, England), March 9, 2006, Tibor Fischer, "The People against the Stalinists," review of Twelve Days.

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