“The Skin of Water” by G.S. Johnston is a captivating story of love and deception in Budapest, Hungary during the closing years of World War II. Johnston brilliantly captures the dangers and struggles of a society that allies themselves with Nazis.
Zeno is a young man working at a lakeside hotel during the summer of 1943 when he has a chance encounter at the lake with an older woman, Catherine Steiner. He is instantly captivated by her and can think of nothing else as he repeatedly encounters her throughout the course of his work at the hotel. When her husband, Sandor, a wealthy industrialist, offers Zeno the position of his personal valet at their home in Budapest, he can’t refuse.
As Catherine and Zeno embark on a grand love affair the situation in Budapest is deteriorating. The Russian army is closing in on Hungary. Germany is experiencing losses on all fronts and is in dire need of equipment and weaponry. As they spread the fascist ideals of Jew hating, things become more volatile and dangerous.
This story really held my attention. The characters were well-developed, including the more minor ones. There was Tibi, Zeno’s one-time friend turned raging Fascist, Gertrude, Zeno’s ex-lover who turns to Tibi in revenge, and Sandor the playboy husband trying to make a business deal to improve his standing in the family.
Johnston put many layers into the story and they revealed things about the war that I’d never heard before. I won’t mention them here because it would spoil the story for others. A fascinating read!