Cover image for Embers
Title:
Embers
Author:
Márai, Sándor, 1900-1989.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First Vintage International edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Vintage Books, 2002.

©2001
Physical Description:
213 pages ; 21 cm
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
Added Author:
ISBN:
9780375707421
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Originally published in 1942 and now rediscovered to international acclaim, this taut and exquisitely structured novel by the Hungarian master Sandor Marai conjures the melancholy glamour of a decaying empire and the disillusioned wisdom of its last heirs.

In a secluded woodland castle an old General prepares to receive a rare visitor, a man who was once his closest friend but who he has not seen in forty-one years. Over the ensuing hours host and guest will fight a duel of words and silences, accusations and evasions. They will exhume the memory of their friendship and that of the General's beautiful, long-dead wife. And they will return to the time the three of them last sat together following a hunt in the nearby forest--a hunt in which no game was taken but during which something was lost forever. Embers is a classic of modern European literature, a work whose poignant evocation of the past also seems like a prophetic glimpse into the moral abyss of the present


Author Notes

S#65533;ndor M#65533;rai was born in Kassa, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1900, and died in San Diego in 1989. He rose to fame as one of the leading literary novelists in Hungary in the 1930s. Profoundly antifascist, he survived World War II, but persecution by the Communists drove him from the country in 1948, first to Italy, then to the United States. He is the author of a body of work now being rediscovered and which Knopf is translating into English.

A NOTE ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Carol Brown Janeway's translations include Binjamin Wilkomirski's Fragments , Marie de Hennezel's Intimate Death , Bernhard Schlink's The Reader , Jan Philipp Reemtsma's In the Cellar , Hans-Ulrich Treichel's Lost , Zvi Kolitz's Yosl Rakover Talks to God , and Benjamin Lebert's Crazy .


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Most of this 1942 Hungarian novel, debuting in English in this edition, is a conversation between the General and Konrad, fast friends from military-school days until some 24 years later, when, after a day's hunt together and an evening's dinner with the General's wife, Krisztina, Konrad resigned his commission and left for the tropics. Since then, Krisztina has died, Konrad has taken British citizenship and resides in London, and the General has retreated to live in the room of his castle in which he was born. Their colloquy marks the first time the friends have met in 41 years. It is more the General's monologue than a conversation, and the wronged man--for Konrad and Krisztina had been meeting secretly--expounds on the fateful events long ago and the characters of their three principal actors in minute detail. Finally, he asks two questions that Konrad declines to answer. The General's performance is either the height of romantic nobility or proof positive that the aristocracy was too full of itself to survive modernity. --Ray Olson


Publisher's Weekly Review

Two very old men Konrad and Henrik, "the General" once the closest of friends, meet in 1940 in the fading splendor of the General's Hungarian castle, after being separated for 41 years, to ponder the events that divided them. This 1942 novel by a forgotten Hungarian novelist, rediscovered and lucidly and beautifully translated, is a brilliant and engrossing tapestry of friendship and betrayal, set against a backdrop of prewar splendor. In the flickering glow and shadow of candlelight, the General recalls the past with neither violence nor mawkish sentiment, but with restrained passion. The two met as boys, Henrik the confident scion of a wealthy, aristocratic family, and Konrad the sensitive son of an impoverished baron. Of their closeness, the General says, "the eros of friendship has no need of the body." When they are young men, Konrad introduces Henrik to Krisztina, the remarkable daughter of a crippled musician. Henrik and Krisztina marry, and the two keep up a close friendship with Konrad, until one morning, on a hunt, Henrik senses that Konrad is about to fire at him. Nothing happens, but Konrad leaves at once, vanishing. For the first time, the General goes to his friend's rooms, and then his wife unexpectedly comes in. He never speaks to her again. Capturing the glamour of the fin de siScle era, as well as its bitter aftermath, M rai eloquently explores the tight and twisted bonds of friendship. (Oct. 2) Forecast: M rai's history he was born in 1900, rose to fame in Hungary in the 1930s, fled the country after WWII and committed suicide in San Diego in 1989, virtually forgotten is at least as compelling as the story he tells here. Embers has already been published to much acclaim in Europe 250,000 copies sold in Italy and 230,000 copies in Germany and is licensed in 18 countries around the world. Feature coverage is to be expected, and though sales may be less explosive on these shores, Knopf's plan to translate future works by M rai should encourage a reappraisal of the writer's place in literary history. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Published in 1942, as Europe lay dying, this novel was lost until recently, even as its author fled to the United States and eventually committed suicide in 1989. The entire novel is a conversation between two old friends but carries the tautness and reckless power of a half-dozen action novels. Earlier in the 20th century, as the old general prowls around his crumbling castle, he is surprised by a message that he will be visited by his old friend Konrad, whom he has not seen for 41 years. The two had been in military school together, and though Konrad was much poorer and of a distinctly unmilitary temperament, the two bonded instantly. But something terrible has happened to separate them something that clearly involves the general's wife, Krisztina and as the general talks and talks to his ever more reluctant guest, the secret is delicately revealed. Of course, it does involve a daring love between Konrad and Krisztina, but that is not really what is at stake, as M rai imaginatively reveals. Questions of honor, truth, and friendship are entertained here, and though the novel inevitably has an old-fashioned feel, the questions it raises are timeless. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/01.] Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter 1 In the morning, the old general spent a considerable time in the wine cellars with his winegrower inspecting two casks of wine that had begun to ferment. He had gone there at first light, and it was past eleven o'clock before he had finished drawing off the wine and returned home. Between the columns of the veranda, which exuded a musty smell from its damp flagstones, his gamekeeper was standing waiting for him, holding a letter. "What do you want?"the General demanded brusquely, pushing back his broad-brimmed straw hat to reveal a flushed face. For years now, he had neither opened nor read a single letter. The mail went to the estate manager's office, to be sorted and dealt with by one of the stewards. "It was brought by a messenger,"said the gamekeeper, standing stiffly at attention. The General recognized the handwriting. Taking the letter and putting it in his pocket, he stepped into the cool of the entrance hall and, without uttering a word, handed the gamekeeper both his stick and his hat. He removed a pair of spectacles from his cigar case, went over to the window where light insinuated itself through the slats of the blinds, and began to read. "Wait,"he said over his shoulder to the gamekeeper, who was about to leave the room to dispose of cane and hat. He crumpled the letter into his pocket. "Tell Kalman to harness up at six o'clock. The Landau, because there's rain in the air. And he is to wear full-dress livery. You too,"he said with unexpected force, as if suddenly angered. "Everything must shine. The carriage and harness are to be cleaned immediately. Then put on your livery, and seat yourself next to Kalman on the coachbox. Understood?" "Yes, Excellence,"said the gamekeeper, looking his master directly in the eye. "At six o'clock.""At half past six you will leave,"said the General, and then appeared to be making some calculation, for his lips moved silently. "You will go to the White Eagle. All you are to say is that I have sent you, and the carriage for the Captain is waiting. Repeat." The gamekeeper repeated the words. Then the General raised his hand, as if he had just thought of something else, and he looked up at the ceiling but didn't say anything and went upstairs to the second floor. The gamekeeper, still frozen to attention, watched him, unblinking, and waited until the thickset, broad-shouldered figure disappeared around the turn of the stone balustrade. The General went into his room, washed his hands, and stepped over to his high, narrow standing desk; arranged on its surface of unstained green felt were pens, ink, and a perfectly aligned stack of those notebooks covered in black-and-white-checked oilcloth commonly used by schoolchildren for their home- work. In the middle of the desk stood a green-shaded lamp, which the General switched on, as the room was dark. On the other side of the closed blinds, in the scorched, withered garden, summer ignited a last blaze like an arsonist setting the fields on fire in senseless fury before making his escape. The General took out the letter, carefully smoothed the paper, set his glasses on his nose and placed the sheet under the bright light to read the straight short lines of angular handwriting, his arms folded behind his back. There was a calendar hanging on the wall. Its fist-sized numbers showed August 14. The General looked up at the ceiling and counted: August 14. July 2. He was calculating how much time had elapsed between that long-ago day and today. "Forty-one years,"he said finally, half aloud. Recently he had been talking to himself even when he was alone in the room. "Forty years,"he then said, confused, and blushed like a school- boy who's stumbled in the middle of a lesson, tilted his head back and closed his watering eyes. His neck reddened and bulged over the maize-yellow collar of his jacket. "July 2, 1899, was the day of the hunt,"he murmured, then fell silent. Propping his elbows on the desk like a student at his studies, he went back to staring anxiously at the letter with its brief handwritten message. "Forty-one,"he said again, hoarsely. "And forty-three days. Yes, exactly." He seemed calmer now, and began to walk up and down. The room had a vaulted ceiling, supported by a central column. It had once been two rooms, a bedroom, and a dressing room. Many years ago--he thought only in decades, anything more exact upset him, as if he might be reminded of things he would rather forget--he had had the wall between the two rooms torn down. Only the column holding up the central vault remained. The castle had been built two hundred years earlier by an army supplier who sold oats to the Austrian cavalry and in course of time was promoted to the nobility. The General had been born here in this room. In those days the room farthest back, the dark one that looked onto the garden and estate offices, had been his mother's bedroom, while the lighter, airier room had been the dressing room. For decades now, since he had moved into this wing of the building, and torn down the dividing wall, this large, shadowy chamber had replaced the two rooms. Seventeen paces from the door to the bed. Eighteen paces from the wall on the garden side to the balcony. Both distances counted off exactly. He lived here as an invalid lives within the space he has learned to inhabit. As if the room had been tailored to his body. Years passed without him setting foot in the other wing of the castle, in which salon after salon opened one into the next, first green, then blue, then red, all hung with gold chandeliers. The windows in the south wing gave onto the park with its chestnut trees that stood in a semicircle in front of protruding balustrades held up by fat stone angels, and bowed down over the balconies in spring in all their dark-green magnificence, lit with pink flowering candles. When he went out, it was to the cellars or into the forest or--every morning, rain or shine, even in winter--to the trout pond. And when he came back, he went through the entrance hall and up to his bedroom, and it was here that he ate all his meals. "So he's come back,"he said aloud, standing in the middle of the room. "Forty-one years and forty-three days later." These words seemed suddenly to exhaust him, as if he had only just understood the enormousness of forty-one years and forty-three days. He swayed, then sat down in the leather armchair with its worn back. On the little table within reach of his hand was a little silver bell, which he rang. "Tell Nini to come up here,"he said to the servant. And then, politely, "If she'd be so kind." From the Hardcover edition. Excerpted from Embers by Sandor Marai All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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