A Review of “The Songs We Hide” Posted in “Reader Views”

The following review appeared in Reader Views:

The Songs We Hide by Connie Hampton Connally is a historical novel set in 1951 Hungary during the country’s transition to communism. In this brutal period of history, singers Peter Benedek and Katalin Varga find a little solace in their shared love for music.

Connally’s exploration of Matyas Rakosi’s Hungary is both thorough and heart-breaking. She does a remarkable job of portraying emotion and the reader feels everything her characters do, from the constant fear of being arrested or blacklisted to the small moments of joy they are afforded by music and family.

This is the first novel I’ve read on post-WWII Hungary. Most focus on the war itself and overlook equally important areas of history. Connally succeeds in bringing the grim reality of 1950s Hungary back to life. Her meticulous research breathes life into the book, painting an accurate picture without overwhelming her readers with information. She brings her audience a delicate blend of fact and fiction that will leave them wanting more.

The Songs We Hide is a great introduction for discussions on communism in high school history classes. With its easily sympathetic characters and bleak atmosphere, this novel is riveting and can hold the attention of teenagers and adults alike.

Connally’s simple, haunting style is perfectly suited to such a story. Focusing on small joys in what seems like a hopeless world, she paints lovely family scenes and gentle moments between tragedies. Each instance of tenderness is only accentuated by the stark reality surrounding the characters. Connally uses this technique time and time again with shocking effectiveness.

This novel examines Rakosi’s Hungary with a musical lens, which makes it stand out from a lot of other post-WWII era fiction I’ve read. Not only are readers following the day-to-day struggles of life in Hungary’s communist transition, they are following two musicians on their journeys; one as he overcomes his personal shyness, and another as she reignites her passion for singing after a traumatic event robbed her of it. That lens adds even more power to the emotional side of the story.

The Songs We Hide is perfect for classrooms and anyone interested in a little explored area of history in fiction. Connie Hampton Connally builds a realistic, captivating setting and the strong voices she gives her narrators are certain to stay with her readers long after they set the novel down. The Songs We Hide makes a fantastic addition to any history buff’s bookshelf!

Reviewed by Skyler Boudreau for Reader Views (5/18)

On My Husband’s Retirement: Honoring a Career Done Well

A napkin from Rory’s retirement party

Sometimes I go for months without anything “blog-worthy” happening. But the past few months have been so full of significance I hardly know how to sort things out. My husband retired, we traveled to Peru, and my book was released. On top of this, two of our grandchildren arrived to stay with us (and with their dad, our son Kevin) for two months. It’s a downpour, all of it worth writing about.

But this post has to go to Rory. After 40 years of dedicated work as an architect, his retirement is well earned. I want to take this opportunity to recognize the work he’s done – and more than that, the integrity he’s maintained.

When I was seventeen, I fell in love with a lanky guy with long hair, glasses, a warm smile, and talent in both drawing and math. His spatial logic was so strong it left me puzzled. Could he see around corners? It was as if he were hard-wired for angles and connections. Turns out he was. He was made to be an architect or an engineer, and he chose architecture. When we were 21, Rory married me, committing himself to life with a woman who barely had the mechanical understanding to operate a can opener. (But even so, we’ve been happy together ever since!)

Rory Connally

A year after we were married, he began working in the field of architecture. Twelve years later, when our youngest child was a year old, Rory took the step of becoming a business owner. He and Jeff Brown began a fledgling architecture firm, with Ken Rowan joining about six months later. For a while, their most consistent bread-and-butter projects came from Taco Bell. They learned to be grateful for “unglamorous” work; it was a whole lot better than no work at all. But as time went by, more opportunities came their way, and they enjoyed much more variety in their projects. The company grew. And grew. Almost 30 years later, BCRA now employs about 90 people.

As I said, when I married Rory I knew he was technically gifted. I didn’t know that he also had the smarts of an attorney and an accountant combined. But he did. The company looked to him to oversee its financial stability. He became the CFO and also the designated reader/micro-inspector of every contract the company was handed. He alone had the patience, caution and legal savvy to work through the fine print.

Rory with his namesake, our grandson Rory

Rory’s calmness under pressure made him the employees’ go-to person when they had difficult questions. The pressures became especially intense with the economic downturn of 2008. In the shaky years that followed, the employees trusted Rory’s honesty, knowing he was looking out for the company’s well-being and for theirs as well.

At the beginning of 2016, Rory and his partner Ken Rowan turned BCRA over to three partners. With everyone’s blessing, Rory and Ken took a few of the employees and formed Nexus, a company that improves the exteriors of buildings for moisture resistance and energy efficiency. When Rory retired from Nexus this March, he left the company in good hands. Both Nexus and BCRA still come to Rory with questions. He doesn’t mind. Problem-solving is part of who he is.

Some leaders naturally stand “out front.” Others work in our midst, making their mark quietly yet so significantly that they shape the group’s whole ethos. That’s what Rory has done as a business leader, a church leader, a community servant, and a father.

He’s also been the most significant influence in my life. But that’s another story—a long one, and a good one.