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Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite
Set against the backdrop of the revolution against the Soviet regime in Cold War Hungary, Radio Underground by Alison Littman is a huge achievement for a debut novel and a gritty tale that follows a daring journalist determined to see the fall of an oppressive regime. The underground journalist, Eszter Turján, succeeds in manipulating news broadcasts on Radio Free Europe and inspires the revolution. After committing murder, she is taken to a secret underground prison. Her daughter vows never to forgive her for this act of selfishness because she hadn’t considered family before putting her life in such danger. Dora Turján trains her mind to think about anything but her mom. But when she falls for a fan of Radio Free Europe, she inevitably is connected to her mom’s circle. After nine years, and finally seeing her mom again, headed for a death sentence after torture for several years, Dora will defy all the odds to save Eszter.
Alison Littman writes with unusual clarity and has this gift of capturing emotions, moments, insights, and elements of the setting with forensic clarity. The author thrusts readers right into the inner worlds of the characters — tense, tumultuous, and reeling with varying emotions. The switch in voices enriches the narrative and reinforces the strength of the POV, but the crisp and confident writing, coupled with the author’s gift for capturing the political and social atmosphere in Budapest during the Cold War grabbed me. Then there is the awesome plot structure, designed to be suspenseful, and the author’s gift for keeping the reader’s attention. Radio Underground reads like a movie; it is a story with powerful historical references, a strong plot, and characters that force readers to follow them. A revolutionary tale written with style.