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When the Summer Was Ours

A Novel

“This compulsively readable tale of loss and love during and after the Second World War is a masterpiece.” —Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author

“A gorgeously written, impeccably researched historical novel, spanning decades and continents, and filled with a richly drawn cast of characters.” —Jillian Cantor, USA TODAY bestselling author

This epic World War II tale of star-crossed lovers separated by class, circumstance, and ​tragedy—from the international bestselling author of the “gripping…filled with passion and hope” (Kate Quinn, New York Timesbestselling author) The Girl They Left Behind—explores the impact of war on civilian life and the indestructible resilience of first love.

Hungary, 1943: As war encroaches on the country’s borders, willful young Eva César arrives in the idyllic town of Sopron to spend her last summer as a single woman on her aristocratic family’s estate. Longing for freedom from her domineering father, she counts the days to her upcoming nuptials to a kind and dedicated Red Cross doctor whom she greatly admires.

But Eva’s life changes when she meets Aleandro, a charming and passionate Romani fiddler and artist. With time and profound class differences against them, Eva and Aleandro still fall deeply in love—only to be separated by a brutal act of hatred.

As each are swept into the tides of war, they try to forget their romance. Yet, the haunting memory of that summer will reshape their destinies and lead to decisions which are felt through generations.

From the horrors of the Second World War to the tensions of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and beyond, When the Summer Was Ours is a sweeping story about the toll of secrets, the blurred lines between sacrifice and obsession, and the endurance of the human spirit.

Chapter 1 1
Sopron, Hungary

Summer 1943

AS THE BUDAPEST STREETS WITH their clatter of trams and hurried pedestrians began to thin out, Eva César reclined against the cool leather of her father’s town car and let out a long breath. Two hours from now, she would be on her family’s country estate in Sopron with nothing to do but soak in some much-needed sun, bask in Dora’s glorious cooking, and tackle (at last!) the three biology books she’d tucked inside her valise under layers of clothing like boxes of stolen chocolates.

It had been a maddening spring, filled with endless parties and dinner outings, and a steady stream of thank-you notes to write for the gifts arriving in elaborate packages for her upcoming wedding. She’d unwrapped each one nonetheless, feigning delight, filled with an undercurrent of annoyance that with Europe at war, she should be receiving such lavish gifts. Endless bibelots, crystal napkin rings, stained glass vases large enough to fit all the flower bouquets in Budapest combined. All, she imagined, would be stored in a pantry somewhere, collecting dust after the wedding. She wouldn’t have much use for them in her new life with Eduard.

The planning of the wedding itself had felt more like the negotiation of a peace treaty, obliterating any time at all she might have had for reading. Even the dress fittings (all six of them) she’d come to regard as a weekly trip to the dentist. At the last appointment, she did her best not to slouch, or tap her foot, or swat the tiny flies that seemed enthralled with the bursts of tulle and lace on her shoulders. She’d had the overwhelming urge to push past the seamstress hovering at her feet and flee. Didn’t this woman with a mouthful of pins and the concentration of a mathematician understand what was taking place outside the rosewood-paneled walls of her shop? Didn’t she know that while she insisted that every pearl on her five-foot train should be fastened at exact intervals, men were trudging through trenches without proper boots, dying in the Russian snow?

Then she’d spotted a recent newspaper folded in three on the low table near the sofa strewn with patterns and rolls of silk, and she realized, of course this woman knew.

Everyone in her family’s circle knew, yet they all seemed intent on looking the other way. Everyone other than her dear Eduard seemed far more consumed with the fact that chocolate éclairs had vanished from Budapest entirely, or that the Széchenyi Baths had become overcrowded. No one was concerned that tens of thousands of Hungarian soldiers had been killed at Stalingrad, with the new year still in celebration.

Poor Eduard. As her car moved through the streets, Eva pictured him at that very moment, his head bent in concentration, pushing his round wire glasses back on the bridge of his nose as he extracted a piece of shrapnel from a soldier’s shoulder. He’d planned to join her in Sopron until late in the spring, when what remained of the Hungarian Second Army had retreated from the Eastern Front and wounded soldiers began pouring into Budapest hospitals by the thousands.

Of course, she had agreed that he should stay for as long as he was needed. Besides, here, under her father’s nose, their every movement and conversation would be observed, their every word measured. There would be no Sunday strolls on Andrássy út, their arms intertwined, exchanging views on what might come to Hungary if its alliance with Germany was to continue. No coffee and Gauloise cigarettes at the brasserie across from Heroes’ Square, where he would give her a detailed account of the latest tourniquet he’d applied, and how, just as he was preparing grimly for an amputation, it had managed to stop the blood flow and save the doomed limb. Or how a bullet could enter the body in a way that endangered no organs then splay under the skin like a trick flower pulled from a hat.

As the car turned into the main highway and began closing the two hundred kilometers that stretched between Budapest and Sopron, she sparked a cigarette, and thought with some amusement of the day when her fascination with anatomy began. She was eight years old, and on that Christmas Eve, among other gifts, she’d been presented with a brand-new set of pencils and a coloring book. She sat at the kitchen table later that night with her book and a cup of hot chocolate provided by one of the servants. There, among the clattering of pots and pans and plates being scrubbed, she opened it for the first time and wondered in that first instant if her uncle had picked it up from the bookshop by mistake. It was a drawing book, but there were no flowers to fill in, no clouds or castles. There, in all its glorious form, Eva glimpsed the naked human body for the first time.

Not just the body, however, but all it contained in its secret corridors, intricate maps of systems she never knew about. As Eva stared at the illustrations opposite the blank pages she was to fill in, she marveled that her own body contained such complexities. That underneath the quiet smoothness of skin, blood pumped through mazes of veins; that everything from the muscles in her neck to the tendons in her toes was all connected in one perfect constellation. All night she’d spent copying the illustrations—the tendons, the arteries, the organs, shaped like some strange exotic fruit. She hadn’t noticed when the sun had come up nor that her breakfast tray lay untouched on the armoire.

It was only when she met Eduard years later that she was able to confess this obsession to anyone. She went to a friend’s birthday dinner out of obligation as much as boredom. She expected the usual meaningless chatter as she stood around alone smoking a cigarette, then she overheard the conversation taking place just on the other side of the fireplace. She didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but then she saw that the woman in the duo had grown quiet and was looking at her in perplexity. The man, too, noticing the distraction, had glanced over his shoulder. There was a sort of gentility in the premature silvery strands at his temples, an earnestness in his clear blue eyes as he turned to her fully.

“I’m sorry,” Eva found herself explaining. “I’m just waiting for someone. Please don’t mind me. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“You’re not interrupting in the least,” said the man. He held out his hand, and a tiny, amused smile that seemed at odds with his formal gesture appeared at the corners of his lips. “I’m Eduard.”

“Eva,” she replied as she shook his hand, hoping that taking a drag of her cigarette in tandem would convey some mild disinterest. But she was interested, not necessarily in the way he looked, which was not exactly unpleasing, but in what she’d heard him say only moments earlier.

“You’re a doctor with the Red Cross. I’m sorry.” She found herself apologizing again and wished that she hadn’t. “I couldn’t help overhearing. That, and… well, mostly everything else. So it’s true, then. Our regent means to disentangle Hungary from the war. And he’s already promised the Americans and the Brits to hold back fire on their aircraft.” She took another drag of her cigarette, which shivered slightly between her fingers. “Incredible, isn’t it, but is it sustainable? I imagine Herr Hitler will not take this kindly.”

“True,” said Eduard after a long pause. He looked at her as if suddenly observing her from a different angle. “But tell me… Eva. Why would someone as lovely as you be interested in tracking political maneuvers?”

“Why not?” she said, tipping her chin in defiance and tossing back the rest of her champagne. “Even someone like me”—this, she said in clear irony—“does not wish to see the Nazi flag flutter on Castle Hill.”

They ended up leaving the party together, grabbing a late-night drink. In the dim lights of the tavern he insisted on, Eva noticed how alive he was talking about his work, which had begun in earnest even before he finished medical school. It occurred to her that perhaps he couldn’t afford to take her to a place better—he’d earlier mentioned with surprising openness the school debts he’d been struggling to pay for years—and she felt warmed from within with something like enchantment, or perhaps admiration. To her own astonishment, she’d placed her hand on his.

Later, he walked her home in a drizzle of rain, passing the darkened storefronts on Váci utca. The quietness of the night, with its faint sound of streetcars, seemed to embrace them in an intimate way. In front of her home, just just a stone’s throw from the Operaház, he paused on the sidewalk to take in the tall windows and ornate baroque facade, and she squeezed his arm, as if to indicate that this, like anything else, was ordained by something that had nothing to do with them. He’d kissed her cheek and departed in a hurry, his shoulders scrunched against the October wind, shaking the mist from his hair as if to dispel the evening, which might have been no more than a dream.

Four months later, they were engaged. She knew it was rushed, yet ever since his proposal, when he declared that her presence in his life had spurred in him a desire to rise to the highest planes, a similar feeling had awakened in her as well. She was twenty, after all. Twenty, and he, perfect in every way. She couldn’t have hoped for a better match. Besides, in the short time they’d spent together, she never became more certain of one thing: with this man at her side, she could shape her own future. She could make of it what she wished—and that, above all, had filled her with great exhilaration.

The car, Eva realized with a start, had turned from the main highway, and began its upward climb on the smaller road leading up to the villa. She hadn’t noticed the time pass, yet here she was, on a land that belonged to a different world, with its lush trees and the calmness of a simple life, and all the colors of a Cézanne painting. At the end of the long driveway, after they’d gone through the main gates and the villa revealed itself from the shade of oaks, she opened the car door and, before stepping out, she inhaled deeply. The Sopron air always smelled of fresh-cut grass and rain even at the onset of summer, that nostalgic, comforting air of her youth.

Despite the chauffer’s protests she pulled her own valise from the trunk, and as she slammed it shut, a familiar voice greeted her from the top of the stairs. Dora, her summer governess, was hovering under the arched door, breathing heavily as though she’d run a mile from the kitchen.

“Oh, my dearest, you’re here!” she sang in her quivery voice, fanning her plump, ruddy cheek with one hand while balancing a platter of her legendary baked strudel on the other. “Oh, but look at you! Soon to be a madame! Oh, come here, love. Let me see you, my beauty.”

“My dearest Dora, hello!” Eva shouted, laughing, running up the steps. “You’re back! You don’t know how happy this makes me.” Dora lived in town, but every summer while Eva visited, Dora reinstalled herself at the villa even though Eva had long stopped needing a nanny. If anything, they’d become close friends over the past years, and Eva couldn’t wait to see her year-round.

“You know, I think this will be a summer of great adventure for us,” Eva said now, kissing Dora’s flour-dusted cheek even though she couldn’t think of anything at all adventurous between now and early September. Taking a hearty bite of the strudel, she walked into the house with it, letting the powdered sugar scatter into the air like dust dancing in a slant of light.

In the vast windows, the sun had already dipped beyond the hills, bathing the vineyards in shades of amber and gold, and she paused in the living room doorway to take it all in. This peacefulness, this splendor. Would it last? For how long? Sopron, she thought, after this summer, may never quite belong to her in the same way again. She turned and went up the staircase, thankful that at least for now, for two more weeks, while her father was detained in Vienna, the Sopron of her childhood belonged just to her. It was only hers and Dora’s, and she intended to enjoy every languid, unadventurous moment.
Eric Lindstrom

Roxanne Veletzos was born in Bucharest, Romania, and moved to California with her family as a young teen. Already fluent in English and French, she began writing short stories about growing up in her native Eastern Europe, at first as a cathartic experience as she transitioned to a new culture. With a bachelor’s degree in journalism, she has worked as an editor, content writer, and marketing manager for a number of Fortune 500 companies. Her debut novel, published in multiple languages, is an international bestseller. Roxanne lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"A fast-paced, illuminating, gorgeously written epic, this compulsively readable tale of loss and love during and after the Second World War is a masterpiece." —Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Forest of Vanishing Stars

“In her novel of forbidden romance, conflict, separation, and reunion, Roxanne Veletzos creates a world devastated by the brutality of war, yet inhabited by characters whose challenges are matched by their hope and an epic love that defies social boundaries, geography, and time.” –Lisa Wingate, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours and The Book of Lost Friends

When the Summer Was Ours is a breathtaking romance that unfolds in a richly drawn landscape of war and loss—a gripping, unforgettable story of enduring love and the fragile yet indomitable hope that sustains the human heart through tragedy to redemption.” —Jennifer Chiaverini, New York Times bestselling author of Resistance Women

“A gorgeously written, impeccably researched historical novel, spanning decades and continents, and filled with a richly drawn cast of characters. Roxanne Veletzos deftly weaves a tale of music, heartbreak, survival, and ultimately, enduring love. I devoured this beautiful, moving book.” —Jillian Cantor, USA Today bestselling author of Half Life

"A gripping story of a passionate, illicit love affair torn apart by decades of brutal inhumanity and secrets. Through unimagined journeys of self-discovery and determination, the characters must find within themselves the courage not only to endure but to once again reach for the impossible. A heart wrenching, vivid novel of love, war, and loyalty written in Roxanne Veletzos’ trademark style of unapologetic honesty and lasting devotion." —Genevieve Graham, bestselling author of The Forgotten Home Child

"A remarkable story of love, suffering, and second chances, told in immersive prose. With its rich setting and bittersweet twists of fate, When the Summer was Ours drew me in and kept me wondering until the final page. I highly recommend this original and moving WWII read." —Ellen Keith, bestselling author of The Dutch Wife

"A sweeping story of love and forgiveness. You won't want to put this book down." —Diana Giovinazzo, author of The Woman in Red

"Like the gypsy music that is at the center of this wonderful novel, WHEN THE SUMMER WAS OURS is a lyrical and deeply moving story of star-crossed love during World War II, Hungary.  Eva is a complex heroine and her ultimate fate is bittersweet and rewarding at the same time. Book clubs will love this intimate tale of courage and sacrifice." —Anita Abriel, internationally best selling author of Lana's War 

"A sweeping, heartbreaking love story about how the smallest of choices can change our fates. Set against the backdrop of war and revolution, When Summer Was Ours is an artfully written story told with deep compassion. Historical fiction fans will love this book!" —Julia Kelly, author of The Whispers of War

"In this heartbreaking, powerful story of unrequited love, Veletzos draws us into Eva and Aleandro’s enduring love affair that spans half a century, from WWII Hungary to 1950s New York and the Cold War, in which their personal upheavals and triumphs are artfully intertwined with those of history. Veletzos’ beautiful and well-crafted novel, in lush sensual prose, opens the deep chambers of the heart to show the choices and regrets, and the secret hopes, we all carry within us." —Alexis Landau, author of Those Who Are Saved

"A Tale of Two Cities meets The Nightingale in this luminous wartime love story that sweeps readers from an impoverished Romani camp in Hungary at the brink of World War Two to the Siege of Budapest and on to the New York art scene during the Cold War. Tenderly drawn and lyrically told, Roxanne Veletzos’s unforgettable characters show us the political is always personal, art is both transcendent and fragile, and courage is the ultimate weapon against injustice. Transportive and moving, When the Summer Was Ours is haunted by the violin music of the Romani people and a love that endures through war and devastation." —Laurie Lico Albanese, author of Stolen Beauty

More books from this author: Roxanne Veletzos