It gives me great pleasure to post my review of this compelling biographical account of an extraordinary individual who has lived through extraordinary times.
This brilliantly executed narrative, based on a true story, is both a story of the old world and the new world. The novel focuses on Adam Baumann, an ethnic German born in Hungary in 1929, in a small town close to the Romanian border. He and his family are impacted by the expanding reach of the Nazi regime and ultimately drawn into the war. Adam manages to survive and to reunite with his family. He eventually emigrates to Canada where he builds a life for himself with tenacity, grit, and inventiveness.
This story touches upon a historical aspect not often addressed—the expulsion of Germans and ethnic Germans from eastern and central Europe in the immediate aftermath of World War II. In one of the greatest forced migrations of people, by 1950, as many as 12 million had fled or had been expelled from east-central Europe. The death toll associated with this has not been definitely established; however, estimates range from 500,000 to 600,000 people.
It is a story I am familiar with due to the experiences of my mother’s family which fled to the west from a region near the Baltic Sea, about one hour south of Gdansk. Some of the people who fled in the last months of the war eventually tried to return to their homes in 1945/1946 only to be shot upon arrival or immediately expelled. Like Adam’s family, my relatives experienced the mixed feelings on part of Germans in the west. Refugees were treated with disdain and even with outright discrimination. Admittedly, in the early years after World War II, much of Germany lay in ruins, and the population, weary, exhausted, and hungry, was hard-pressed and not eager to share already limited resources with an influx of over 12,000 million people. Like Adam and his family, my relatives also exhibited an astounding tenacity in rebuilding their lives and together with other refugees from the east did much to rebuild the country in return.
Adam’s personal story is fascinating. From the first pages, beginning with the charming hand-drawn maps of Adam’s home town Elek in Hungary and his family’s home until 1946, one is drawn into this vivid account, practically feeling the sting of the strap with which Adam’s father would administer his harsh punishments and tasting the potatoes and sausages cooked by his mother. Much of the tension derives from Adam’s refusal to give in to his father’s rule and rigid expectations and his own restlessness which eventually spurs him to join the German SS at 15, lying about his age and bewitched by dreams of glory and power. He soon learns how profoundly mistaken he was.
Adam survives through a series of fortunate occurrences and an uncanny ability to seize the moment, thus escaping from dire straits over and over again. Upon his return to his family as a sixteen-year old, he plays a pivotal role in finding and rescuing his sister who had been forced into a labor camp and finally ended up as a farm laborer in the Russian zone of Germany. In the dark of night, Adam smuggles his sister across the border, shortly before the East German government made the border nearly impermeable. Eventually arriving in Canada with seven dollars in his pocket, Adam manages to build a business which makes it possible for him to support his family in Germany and his own family in Canada.
Roxy Harms has succeeded in weaving together all the stories related to her by Adam Baumann into a compelling narrative. I was moved to learn that all profits from the sale of the book will be donated to The Upside of Hunger Scholarship Fund, awarded annually to underprivileged Grade 12 students wishing to pursue a university education. This well reflects Adam Baumann’s personal generosity not only to everyone in his family but also anyone who worked for him or came into contact with him. I highly recommend this book.
Photographs of Adam and his family [provided courtesy of Roxi Harms]
Adam and his dad in Germany after his dad had been released from the prison camp and traced
the family to Laundebach.
Adam’s little sister Annie, the only photo that exists of her, with some cousins and one of his
aunts, circa 1942 in Hungary.
Adam’s family in late 1947, taken in in Laudenbach, Germany; Adam back right corner, age 18.
Adam with friends that he had met on the ship as he immigrated to Canada in 1951; Adam back
Adam’s Uncle Florian who stayed back in Hungary when the rest of the family was deported, as
he was married to a Hungarian woman.
Adam with his two brothers, George and Frank, who all live in Canada now. Circa 2005.
For more information, visit the author’s website at https://roxiharms.com/
I also include the author’s own words on how she came to write this book. That itself is a story
to inspire writers everywhere:
Roxi Harms: I am an accidental author (yes, really!) and every day I am grateful for having stumbled into this journey. The list of reasons for my gratitude is long, but the biggest is that every day I hear from
readers who have found the same inspiration, intrigue, and enjoyment as I did in learning
About eight years ago while on vacation, I found myself seated at dinner with a man who, as a
boy, fought on the Eastern Front. I was spellbound. I couldn’t believe I was sitting across the
table from someone who had experienced these historical events. After hearing his story, I had
an overwhelming need to capture it so that others could derive as much enjoyment and
inspiration from his journey as I had. I wasn’t a writer, but I was determined. I began taking online
courses and working at it day after day. Over 400 recorded interviews, eight drafts, and well
over five years later, I published The Upside of Hunger.
The Upside of Hunger, my debut novel, is the story of a Hungarian boy’s coming of age during
Hitler’s reign of terror, and the man he became as a result. At 15, fleeing from a domineering
father yet again, Adam found escape at the military recruitment station in Vienna. As he shivered
in a frozen foxhole on the Eastern Front, a Russian bullet found its mark, catapulting Adam into
a series of terrifying captures and daring escapes as he crossed war-torn Europe on foot to find
his family. Adam’s journey to find love and build a life in the aftermath spans decades and
continents, as he struggled to overcome the limitations that history had placed on him.
While writing Upside, I realized that if I did the story justice, it could generate profits, but I
didn’t write it for personal profit. I TRULY wrote it so that the story wouldn’t be lost when Adam
passes from this world. He and I discussed this and decided to establish a fund for high school
grads from financially strapped families, to assist with first year college tuition. Every single
dollar of profit goes to that fund. Just last week the very first Upside of Hunger scholarship was
awarded to a high school student with dreams of becoming an engineer. His brother had to
undergo sudden and significant cancer treatment two years ago, creating a financial drain on the
family. The scholarship is going to help the recipient pursue his dreams despite the setback his
family has been enduring. There are no words to describe how joyful I am at this news.