You, Fascinating You: A Novel by Germaine Shames
Being a history buff and truly fascinated by dance history I was drawn to You, Fascinating You by Germaine Shames. You, Fascinating You is a novel about the plight of a Hungarian ballerina that happened to also be Jewish, her struggles for happiness, her wishes to only dance and how politics can shatter dreams.
This is the true life story of Hungarian ballerina Margit Wolf and the man who would become her husband and father of her child, Pasquale Frustaci, known as the “Italian Cole Porter”. It is the story of a starry-eyed ballerina of seventeen who leaves the security of her home to pursue her dream of dancing upon the grand stages of Europe only to run into the reality of Fascism, the horrors of Nazism and the making of the most selfless decision of her life
Margit and three other young women are approached by an Italian impresario who offers them the opportunity to dance upon the greatest stages of Europe. He would manage their careers and all they had to do was dance. They were surprised to find upon arrival in Italy that they were not performing in Milan or Rome, but with a traveling Vaudeville revue, playing small towns with small stages, not the ideal setting for classical ballet by any means. They have little choice but to stay, work in the revue and try to find a way back home.
This is where she meets Pasquale Frustaci, who is in charge of the company’s orchestra. In a romance that travels from town to town, from one second-rate theater to another, a romance blossoms between the two. The two marry and not long after Margit gives birth to their son Cesare. But with the rise of Fascism in Italy, Margit decides it is best to raise her son as Catholic and always reminds him he is Italian.
With the threat of war looming and knowing the difficulties that would ensue, a worried Margit travels to Hungary with her infant son to visit her parents. It was meant to be a short stay in Hungary but twenty-two years would pass before she sees Pasquale again.
With Margit absent from his life, Pasquale Frustaci writes Tu Solamente Tu/You, Fascinating You, first recorded in 1939 by Vittorio de Sica thus gaining Pasquale international success. Margit often hears it on the radio, knowing it was written with her in mind, it gives her both comfort and sorrow.
World War II was difficult times, not just for Margit and her son, but Europe as a whole. You, Fascinating You mirrors the horrors and difficult decisions made in order to survive the Holocaust. Margit and her family are moved into the Jewish Ghetto of Budapest; there every day is filled with fear of the unknown and a struggle for survival. She hears from Pasquale intermittently, his letters coming less frequently, which Margit blames on the war. But with each letter Pasquale seems distant, vaguely claiming to be doing everything in his power to get them out of Hungary.
Margit makes the heart wrenching decision that her son, at age 7, would be safer in the streets then in the Jewish Ghetto. Armed only with his Catholic baptismal certificate, he is forced to fend for himself, sleeping in hallways and playgrounds. She is desperate to get Cesare to safety.
Margit is able to make contact with a man claiming he works with a group of people who would be able to smuggle Cesare to his father in Italy, but at a price. Giving everything that she and her mother were able to gather together, she places her son into this man’s care, a man she never sees or hears from again.
Margit, having been placed in a forced labor camp, is liberated by the Russians. She finds that Cesare never made it to Italy and she sets out to search for her son. Displaced children are everywhere, parents either dead or their fates unknown. For almost two years Margit walks to village after village, summer and winter, till she finally is able to locate him.
You, Fascinating You is a must read for any history or dance history buff. It gives a sense of the realities and difficulties for performing artists of the era. It is a book based on true events and real people. It shows Margit Wolf’s strength of character, her dedication to her son and her determination to survive. You, Fascinating You is an excellent read, for Germaine Shames brings to life a remarkable woman and her story of struggle, despair, fortitude and strength.