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An Exclusive Love

A Memoir

Johanna Adorján (Author), Anthea Bell (Translator)


“This book tells the story of Vera and István, Hungarian Jews who survived the Holocaust, fled during the 1956 uprising in Budapest to Denmark and in 1991 in Copenhagen took their own lives. They were found in their bed, hand in hand. It is the story of an unusual love. The story of my grandparents."—Johanna Adorján

Two people have grown old together. He is terminally ill, she doesn't want to live without him. One Sunday in autumn, they clean the apartment, leave the dog with a friend, and protect the rose-bushes against the cold of the coming winter. Then they are ready.

Tactfully and affectionately, Johanna Adorján has reconstructed the day of her grandparents' suicide. Vera and István were anything but ordinary. Chain-smoking and glamorous, they exuded the aura of a more elegant age. And they had a past which they did not discuss—even within the family. Decades ago they had fled disaster, started a new life in Denmark and—so it seemed—never looked back.

Sixteen years after her grandparents' death, Johanna Adorján sets out to fill the gaps of their story, in the process discovering unexpected things about herself and her family. Against the backdrop of the horrors of the 20th-century, she brings Vera and István back to life—a fascinating couple, peculiarly stylish, stubborn, eccentric. With an extraordinary blend of true reporting and novelistic recreation Johanna Adorján tries to understand their last and powerful act.

Beautifully written, tender but never sentimental, An Exclusive Love is a brilliantly-constructed memoir and a gorgeous romance, a tale of two people who died as they lived: inseparable.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • January 2011
  • ISBN 978-0-393-08001-8
  • 6 × 8.6 in / 192 pages
  • Sales Territory: USA and Dependencies and the Philippines.

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverAn Exclusive Love: A Memoir


Endorsements & Reviews

“Starred Review. In the process of assimilating disparate facts into a poignant and elegant story, Adorján exposes her own hopes and fears, an added bonus.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Spare, beautiful.... artfully reconstructs the day in 1991 when her grandparents took their own lives in a suicide pact.... This fascinating couple come slowly into focus for the author and reader simultaneously, or so Adorjan makes it seem. That's what makes a good memoir...a shared discovery.” — The New York Times Book Review

“In a striking debut, Adorján mingles past, present, memory, and imagination.” — Publishers Weekly

“A haunting, beautifully composed book …Like Francine du Plessix Gray's Them, Edmund de Waal's The Hare With Amber Eyes and Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost, An Exclusive Love offers a fascinating new angle on the Holocaust filtered through the perspective of survivors' progeny.... In imagining what her grandparents' feelings and actions might have been on their last day, Adorjan hits upon a powerful dramatic structure that builds from the quotidian to the shocking.... Sensitive, intelligent and profoundly moving, An Exclusive Love will leave you stunned.” — Heller McAlpin, NPR.org

“As Adorján tries to understand her grandparents’ death, she also confronts her own feelings about her sense of heritage and identity. Blending history, memoir, and imaginative writing, Adorján’s nonlinear procedure creates a poignant narrative of unwavering love.” — Booklist

“The most impressive opening sentence of this literary season.” — Libération [France]

“[A] story that is troubling in its immediacy, and which, via an intuitive sensitivity, captures a striking truth … Very simply, without pathos, without artifice, this personal account is written with the infinite gentleness of sorrow that has found peace.” — Le Monde

“[A] remarkable book ... [It] succeeds so profoundly—the sequences flow through time and space and from one person's voice to another with calm assurance, like a great musical composition.” — Sunday Star Times [New Zealand]

“Her simple and direct style renders the story with a perfect clarity.” — Le Figaro

“The fact that the author does not tire in inquiring into this riddle, that she scrutinizes everything anew, courageously and with a biting wit, makes her book about a grim Sunday a sparkling work.” — Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung [Germany]

“A wonderful narrative about an extraordinary couple—enchanting, warm, and consoling.” — Buch Journal [Germany]

“A stirring account of sorrow and heartbreak.” — Vogue [Australia]

“Best described as literary non-fiction, this memoir moved me to laughter and tears.” — Herald Sun [Australia]

“Adorján has written a book that shimmers with a sense of the casual comedy of human life…It is certainly the work of a natural writer, graceful as well as forceful…one of the most striking memoirs to be published anywhere in years.” — The Australian

“A very poignant book.” — Die Zeit [Germany]

“I was very much moved by An Exclusive Love—such clarity of thought and feeling. What I think of Anthea Bell as a translator is little short of reverence, after what she did for W. G. Sebald: one trusts her absolutely, so I know for sure that Johanna Adorján writes with beautiful precision and suppleness. It's a truly memorable book.” — Diana Athill, best-selling author of Somewhere Towards the End

“This is a very powerful book, unusually powerful, beautifully written and translated. Neither sentimental nor judgmental, it will gift you not only with a riveting read, but with a reason for serious thought and contemplation after you have finished reading. It offers a prism through which one might examine and perhaps come to understand a most complicated act, to put aside the sensationalism in order to see the logic and the deep humanity.” — Elizabeth Berg, author of The Last Time I Saw You

“Exclusive, that is to say singular, in every way: in its project, in its realization and in its translation. A breathtaking fairytale of suicide.” — Irène Heidelberger-Leonard, Free University of Brussels, Belgium

“This is an intense, complex, uplifting, passionate, painful and often hilarious story of love.” — Lily Brett, author of Things Could be Worse

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