[Review] Degrees of Courage by Shari Vester

Title: Degrees of Courage
Author: Shari Vester
Publisher: Mill City Press Inc. June 19, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1938223235
Genre: Historical Fiction, loosely based on author.
Theme: Three generations of women who lived in Hungary during the 20th century.
Format: Paperback
Age: Adult
Pages: 574
Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Free copy from Shari Vester in exchange for a review.

Degrees of Courage is set in the town of Sopron. Sopron is a town in modern day Hungary that borders Austria. In 1901 it was apart of the Austria-Hungry, Habsburg Empire. This empire began in 1867 and lasted until the end of World War I when the empire dissolved and broke apart into individual nations. The Austria-Hungary Empire consisted of a large part of Serbia and Romania; a small part of Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Ukraine; also Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Herzegovina, Bosnia, Transylvania; all of Austria and Hungary. During the Habsburg Empire, industrial and manufacturing increased. In Hungary the primary religion was Latin Catholic. The people spoke Hungarian and German. I wanted to give you a brief history and geography of the book to set the stage. Although the story is about one family centering on three generations of women, much of the book is historical. 
I met three women in this story: Angela, Lensie or Ilonka, Sarika. The book begins in 1901 in Sopron, Hungary, with the death of Angela's mother. Angela became caregiver to her siblings, as well as taking on the responsibilities of the home while her father worked. Angela was a selfless sweet girl; yet became involved naively in a forbidden romance. A new life away from her family forced her to become independent. Her daughter Lensie experienced the turbulent World War I years and the Depression, as well as World War II and the Communist takeover. Lensie's daughter Sarika or Sari, wanted to be a modern educated woman, she clashed with her mother's idea of what was best. Each of the three women display distinct personalities and temperaments.

My Thoughts:
I loved this story!
It is lengthy at 574 pages, but this did not deter me.
I felt apart of the story, fully invested in the three women and where life took them. 
I have traveled to Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, in 1999 and 2001. I am familiar with the people and culture of our modern age. After reading Degrees of Courage, I understand a bit more about the people and culture of the earlier part of the 20th century. 
I understand better how history affected people. World War I and the Depression, World War II and Communism, deeply changed society in every way. People had no choice but to accept and adapt as best they could. In the 1950s many fled Communist Hungary for the west. The characters in Degrees of Courage, told the story of this period of time, including how it felt to leave family not knowing if or when they would meet again.
The three women echoed the culture of the era in which they lived. I noticed with each proceeding generation the ability to express themselves grew. They felt more independent and able to make choices. Their hopes and dreams, fears and insecurities, education and talents, are all explored.
It is apparent the author did extensive research on wars, empires, religions, geography, politics, culture, of this century.
One of my favorite points in this book is that it is real.
A. The characters showed me the reality of life not a storybook.
B. The characters are dimensional, I saw every angle of their personalities both good and bad.
C. I liked it that I could not take it for granted that the characters lives would end well, this helped me to stay tuned in, and to not guess the ending.
In reading a non-fiction book I am detached from characters. In Degrees of Courage, I became intimately involved in the family. I understood both its historical events and how they affected the women.
If characters in books could become friends, these women became mine.



Link @ Amazon:
Paperback $17.97
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