Abigail is about a Hungarian girl trying to fit in in a fortress-like boarding school during WWII. She's not used to a severe or devout life and quickly makes enemies among her classmates. She struggles to answer questions like, "How can I get the other girls to like me?" But she has other questions too: Why did her father send her there? Why is she forbidden communication with the outside world? What is her father's role in the war? My first question was, since the girl's name is Gina, who is Abigail?— From Kaitlyn's Picks
Abigail, the story of a headstrong teenager growing up during World War II, is the most beloved of Magda Szabó’s books in her native Hungary. Gina is the only child of a general, a widower who has long been happy to spoil his bright and willful daughter. Gina is devastated when the general tells her that he must go away on a mission and that he will be sending her to boarding school in the country. She is even more aghast at the grim religious institution to which she soon finds herself consigned. She fights with her fellow students, she rebels against her teachers, finds herself completely ostracized, and runs away. Caught and brought back, there is nothing for Gina to do except entrust her fate to the legendary Abigail, as the classical statue of a woman with an urn that stands on the school’s grounds has come to be called. If you’re in trouble, it’s said, leave a message with Abigail and help will be on the way. And for Gina, who is in much deeper trouble than she could possibly suspect, a life-changing adventure is only beginning.
There is something of Jane Austen in this story of the deceptiveness of appearances; fans of J.K. Rowling are sure to enjoy Szabó’s picture of irreverent students, eccentric teachers, and boarding-school life. Above all, however, Abigail is a thrilling tale of suspense.
Len Rix is a poet, critic, and former literature professor. In 2006, he was awarded the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize for his translation of Magda Szabó’s The Door.
“A tense, intimate narrative that brilliantly depicts youthful innocence ensnared by lethal menace . . . Szabó the magician reveals, for an instant, time, history and human folly, all glimpsed through a child’s clear eyes.” —Anna Mundow, The Wall Street Journal
“[I]n Len Rix's superb translation, Abigail is a delightful page-turner. There's an air of enchantment about the school—the book takes its title from a statue that supposedly grants the students' wishes—and Gina begins to have adventures—some quite funny, others that bring tears to your eyes.” —John Powers, NPR’s Fresh Air
“This infectious coming-of-age novel from Szabó, released in 1970 and translated into English for the first time, is a rollicking delight. Gina Vitay, the headstrong, spoiled lead, is reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Emma. . . . Szabó pairs the psychological insights reader will recognize from her novel The Door with action more akin to Harry Potter. Gina is one of Szabó‘s finest creations.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Sequestered at a boarding school during World War II, a rebellious teenager confronts secrets, lies, and danger. . . . Urgent moral questions underlie a captivating mystery." —Kirkus