Fourteen-year-old Gina, the spoiled daughter of a Hungarian general, rails against being sent to boarding school far from Budapest when war breaks out, but finds help in a statue of Abigail and her new 'sisters.'
The English edition of Abigail is as welcome as it is overdue. Len Rix’s translation is deft, but Szabo’s frank, conversational prose takes a back seat to her sinuous plotting: The novel unspools its secrets over many pages, and the resulting tour de force is taut with suspense ... at once harrowing and mesmerizing, all the more so because we glimpse its dramas through the uncomprehending lens of Gina’s youthful simplicity. Nothing could ruin a book so humane — but to resolve the novel’s central mysteries, especially the enigma of Abigail’s identity, would be to diminish some of its breathless urgency. To learn the truth, you must consult Abigail herself.
... a tense, intimate narrative that brilliantly depicts youthful innocence ensnared by lethal menace. (The fine translation is by Len Rix) ... for all its heartbreak, this deceptively simple novel in its atmosphere and setting is one of Szabó’s airiest. The winds of the Great Plain seem to agitate its pages, and Gina, crossing that expanse for the first time, senses a timeless landscape of 'water, earth and air' ... [A] moment of vision, like so many in the novel, seems to shimmer on the page, as Szabó the magician reveals, for an instant, time, history and human folly, all glimpsed through a child’s clear eyes.
... while we’ve stuck with Gina’s point of view this whole time, ultimately it’s not her choices but the deaconess Susanna’s that matter. It’s actually the adults in the story who can influence the outcome. They’ve been there all along as background or props and come to the fore in the last pages. Szabo manages this astonishing transition, where the story she’s wrapped us up in whisks away, and we have to rethink all we’ve been told. What a pleasure it is then, on finishing the book, to turn back to the first page and read again that Gina felt 'as if a bomb had destroyed her home.' What had been adolescent hyperbole is now a real bomb, promising real destruction and death ... Szabo is a fleet, modern writer ... Abigail is a moral—though not moralizing—book.