The Budapest Protocol: Review

The Budapest Protocol by Adam Lebor

The Budapest Protocol by Adam Lebor

First up, this book deals with a very important issue: the rise of the far right in Hungary and the potential danger it poses for both Hungary and the wider European Union. The premise of this political thriller is what if the Nazis had actually won World War II and had spent the subsequent decades building an infrastructure based on such things as a common currency to manipulate the political and social forces to support the current rise of far right political parties in Europe. An intriguing idea, and one that does resonant with what is happening in Hungary today, including the increase in anti-Roma prejudice, virulent antisemitism, and the rise of para-military organizations like the Magyar Garda, here named the Pannonia Brigade. These are important issues that need to be confronted and addressed. Any student of Hungarian history should be concerned at the rise of the far right and the blatant and unashamed prejudices exhibited by far too many politicians in present-day Hungary. The issue here is does this work of fiction deal with these issues in a worthwhile and effective manner. Is this novel the best way to raise awareness of these vital issues? In my view, this novel fails to do so effectively and is a flawed attempt to confront these issues through the vehicle of a political thriller.

There are several reasons for this point of view. One is the writing which, in my view, is overly explanatory. By that I mean, appears written for those who know nothing of Hungary and therefore needs to explain everything as if the reader is completely ignorant. For example, the Ngyuti railway station is referred to both by its Hungarian name and its translated name, the Western railway station. It is either one or the other. Likewise the the use of accents on Hungarian words is inconsistent. For example, the main character’s grandfather is written as “Miklos” where as the poet of the same name is correctly referred to as “Miklós Radnóti”. Silly, I know and the author indicated that this was due to the cost of publishing. I accept that cost is a factor but it is symptomatic of poor editing throughout the novel. For example, YouTube is written as “You Tube” and the Russian composer is referred to as “Rimsky Korsakov”, without the hyphen. Again, the author said these were simple errors and should as such be over-looked.

Another example of this “over explanation” was the author’s need to explain exactly what a “honey trap” was. Well, any reader of spy thrillers should know what this refers to, and if they don’t, it should be inferred from the text. Instead the author feels the need to spell out, through one character’s conversation, that it is, “When one side uses a sexually attractive woman to ensnare a target, either for purposes of blackmail or to extract information”. I don’t recall Graham Greene or John Le Carré having to be quite so obvious in their explanations.

It may sound like I am more critical of the editor of this novel, rather than the author. Perhaps, but it is the author who takes the brickbats or bouquets, so he is ultimately responsible.

I was also intrigued by the inclusion of a select bibliography at the end of the novel, as I was with the inclusion of a section entitled, “Staying Anonymous on The Internet”. Does this suggest a desire to inform as much as to entertain? It struck me as odd and unlike most novels I have read.

But a deeper criticism is the underlying assumption of the novel: that is, that a small, dedicated group of nazis somehow manipulated economic, social and financial events for their nefarious purposes. For example, the Euro, or common European currency, is portrayed in this novel as a tool in the nazis’ attempt to control European affairs to their advantage. How different is this from the view of the far right who blame the woes of Hungary on a small, cabal of “cosmopolitans”, i.e. Jewish, financiers? The view that a small group of individuals, be they nazis or Jews, somehow control and manipulate modern day commerce and politics is, in my view, absurd. In a curious manner, the author almost gives credence to world-view of the far-right by positing that the opposite is true: we are being manipulated by a small group of fascists, rather than the view of current day European fascists that we are being manipulated by a small group of “cosmopolitans”.

As I say, the issues raised in this novel are very important and need to be confronted. But as a work of fiction, The Budapest Protocol is, in my view, fundamentally flawed and should be judged accordingly.

The Budapest Protocol, by Adam LeBor.
Catalogue Details

Author Adam Le Bor
Price £11.99
Publication Date May 2009
ISBN 9781906702120
Format Trade paperback
Classification Fiction
Extent 235 pp
Rights English language X Canada

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