I attended a writers' conference organised by well-known Australian writer, John Marsden, in 2003. We were each to deliver a speech to promote an unpublished manuscript. Several publishers had their acquisition editors there.

   For my contribution to the August, 2019 Rhobin's Round, I reproduced the opening of Anikó: The stranger who loved me. The response was so enthusiastic that I thought to reprint this ancient speech.

A sales pitch for John Marsden's conference, 2003

   What's one of the worst things that can be done to a mother? Having her child taken away from her... by the man she loves.

   Ladies and Gentlemen, this happened to my mother. I was that child.

   She had risked death, and worse than death, to keep me alive during the terrible years of the Second World War. Later, when her marriage broke up, she'd risked social ostracism rather than lose custody. And now, I was torn from her.

   My brother has said to me: "After you left, there never was a day that she didn't mention your name. She lavished a lot of love on me and Father, too much, all the love she wanted to give to you but couldn't."

   This is one of the many episodes in Anikó: The stranger who loved me. The subtitle is apt: distance made us into strangers.

   Here she is: [PHOTO]. She had this photo made for her 40th birthday. I want it as the basis of the book cover.

   My mother was only five feet tall, but that never slowed her down. When she was 21, the foreman at her work tried to rape her. She escaped, covered in bruises, but gave as good as she got. This big, powerful fellow was as battered as his intended victim.

   That was my mother. As for me, I am Bob Rich, the author of 11 published books. One has been in print for 17 years, another for 5. A third book has won an international award.

   Having introduced my mother and myself, let me introduce the book by giving you the first page.

   This page has won me a prize, in the New Zealand Writers' first page of a book contest, which had 281 entries.

   The judge has said this about mine:

   Anikó had an incredible life, her story is well worth telling. I have already mentioned a couple of episodes.

   The toughest period of her life, and the pinnacle of her courage, was of course the second world war. She survived when so many died, because she dared, and cared, and did things differently from others.

   Then the Russians came.

   They called it Liberation, but took huge numbers of people away to be slave workers. A Russian officer was about to capture Anikó. Her only weapons were her smile, and her quick thinking. She got away.

   At last she realised a long-held ambition and set up a small business. When the communist regime forced all private businesses to form so-called cooperatives, she established one, managed to be elected its president in a patriarchal culture -- and then stayed annually re-elected until her retirement. This venture grew. It had over 2000 members when she left. Then, without her creative genius, it slowly withered.

   A revolution exploded in Hungary in 1956. Until then, I had been fighting a very effective guerrilla war -- against my stepfather. I was the naughtiest kid in the world. That's why he used the opportunity the revolution presented. He managed to send me to the West -- then kept the rest of the family behind. I was only 13, spoke no language but Hungarian. All the same, this turned out to have been the best thing that could have happened to me, but it was the worst tragedy of Anikó's life.

   But her greatest challenge was a thirty-one-year long deception. She loved her second husband more than life itself. He was brilliant, powerful, to her endlessly fascinating. And yet, already in 1968, he started to lose his abilities. Slowly, distressingly, he slid into imbecility. Anikó's mission became to protect his dignity, to hide his problem. She managed this, almost to the end.

   She didn't want to live once he went, and in fact died less than a year after him.

   Who will want to read this book? Who will enjoy the film?

   Anyone who loved Schindler's List will love Anikó: The stranger who loved me. They cover similar subjects, have the same lesson for us, but are entirely different stories.

   Anyone who bought Angela's Ashes will buy Anikó. The two books are completely different, but both are intensely personal biographies.

   In April Fool's Day, Bryce Courtenay honoured a dying son. I write to honour a dying mother. The two books will appeal to the same people.

   My mother was ahead of her time. Today, we'd call her a feminist. Over and over, she challenged the male-dominated establishment, and eventually she won. Anyone who admires this attitude will love and admire Anikó.

   Let me complete my talk by repeating a device I used in the book. The story ends where it started, back full circle to Anikó's final days. So, now I would like to give you the last page. It's an entire little chapter.

   Ladies and Gentlemen, when it is published, Anikó: The stranger who loved me will have a wide and varied audience. Publishers occasionally find a book that makes them a great deal of money. This book has the requirements: It is written from the heart. It deals with evergreen issues, in a setting that will be fascinatingly exotic to readers. And I am afraid, the horrors of war are topical once more.

   I wrote this book because I had to, though it was the hardest thing I've ever done. I want it to be widely read. Help me to realise this dream, to our mutual benefit.

Quotes from critical readers

Beth Anderson

   Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, how I LOVE this book! I started feeling so sad when I realized I was reaching the end of it, and when I did, I ended it in tears. I feel as though I've been on a long, beautiful and historic journey with you and your family and friends.

   Bob, it's wonderful. Your characterization is so compelling, the way you did it, interspersing with your present tense POV is BRILLIANT, it works so well, please don't change that. One might think switching like that would be disconcerting, but it's not. It feels absolutely right, and I'm overcome with envy at your brilliance for thinking to do it that way. The whole thing, the history, the family relationships, the war years, the persecution of Jews.

   Bob, I'll never forget reading this. It's such a wonderful picture of the real life of these very real people during some horrible times as well as the good times. The texture is superlative--there's just enough and not too much. All in all, this has got to be your proudest moment as an author, and I'm so overwhelmed that you'd allow me to go through it and add my comments. I thank you for that, because this book is a masterpiece.

   Beth Anderson is a multi-published author of thrillers and mysteries. Her latest book Second Generation is doing very well. Her web site is a valuable resource for writers, with instruction on a variety of topics such as plotting and Point of View.

Darrell Bain

   War is too important a matter to be left for generals. Let me paraphrase that: the past is too interesting to be left to historians. Bob Rich writes history as it should be written, making it as engrossing as any novel. Going a little further, those who write histories where they are involved often can't see the forest for the trees. Not so here. In Anikó, Bob Rich has used family documents, oral history and his own intimate knowledge to craft a truly mesmerizing story of a remarkable woman. It will make you happy, make you sad, make you laugh, cry and sometimes despair at some of the evil which still haunts mankind. But if you are human at all, you will thank your lucky stars at how comfortable, free and well fed you are after reading this book. Bob follows his mother's life from war time Hungary as a girl and woman on up until her dying words and there isn't a dull moment to be found anywhere in the story. All biographies should be so interesting. I give it my highest recommendation.

   Darrell is the author of more than a dozen books in many genres, running the gamut from humour to mystery and science fiction to non-fiction and a few humorous works which are sort of fictional non-fiction, if that makes any sense. He has even written for children. His most recent works are The Sex Gates (in collaboration with Jeanine Berry), The Pet Plague and Life On Santa Claus Lane. His web site is DarrellBain.com.

Elizabeth Burton

   This book exceeds ANGELA'S ASHES for its honest portrayal of an all-too-human woman who survived war, poverty and deep personal loss by sheer strength of will and determination, never hesitating to use any of her talents, skills or advantages. It is told without any attempt to hide her faults or exaggerate her virtues and is all the more compelling for that.

   In 2003, Liz was the Senior Editor of Zumaya Publications and a successful fantasy writer in her own right.

Martine Glaser

   This morning, I finished reading your book. Although a day has passed in which I gave it much thought, it may be too early to give you a full report of how I feel about it. The book has such density of emotion, colour and events (much more, I'd say, than the great ones I've read before) that it'll take some time before everything has sunken in. Never mind. I'll just write another letter then. I decided to write now, since I couldn't wait to tell you how impressed and moved I am.

   I already told you IMHO this is by far the best book I ever read from you. I keep having this kaleidoscopic image of old and complex embroidery, patches of beautiful paintings, wall paper, flowers, street maps, bright and faded fabrics and much more, representing to me the structure of this new book. I see it primarily as a moving quest, in a highly intelligent but loving way presenting us readers with history, emotions, psychology, politics, wisdom, hope and so much more. You really created a world, and though at times that world seems dark and terrible, your wisdom and writing skills make us see there's light coming in through the cracks. So it's not only a monument for your Mother, but also a monument for mankind, struggling for a better world.

   Thank you for giving us that -- it feels like a gift.


Martine is a Dutch writer and artist.

Robert A. Rich

   I spent all last night reading the book (till 5.20 am) and again today, I wouldn't have done this if it didn't grab me. The parts I found the most powerful were the interactions of the characters within history. Describing the external environment and how the characters survived or didn't was great. I think this adds a perspective we don't experience in our own lives. I now feel a lot more connected with my family history which has added a new dimension to how I see myself. I can also see aspects of you, your parents and brother in me and my sons. If nothing else is achieved with this book those changes alone have made your work worthwhile as far as I'm concerned.

   Thank you for spending the time to research and write this story, the information has changed who I am. I will also encourage the kids to read the book to help them fill in the gaps. I think the biggest change is the feeling of coming from somewhere and being part of a lineage.


Robert is my son.

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