Embers

Sándor Márai

translated from the Hungarian by Carol Brown Janeway
Penguin 2001 [1942]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2002 http://dannyreviews.com/
They met as cadets at the military academy in Vienna and were the closest of friends for a decade, before a woman came between them. Forty-one years on, the General lives in a castle in the Carpathian mountains, with only his old nurse for company, and Konrad is coming to see him for the first time. And so the General looks back over his life and then, in a meeting that resolves everything and nothing, delivers what is effectively a monologue, through which we discover what really happened all those years ago.

In places Embers has a certain artificiality, but Márai's prose moves too fluently for us to really notice. It is an almost elegiac vision of one man's life, looking backwards with the distance and the perspective that old age brings: intense memories of childhood and youth, nostalgia for the vanished world of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the worn-in tracks of repeated thinking on grievances and obsessions, and a life governed by routine and discipline, with ideas taking the place of feelings. The result is involving, moving, and though not deep sometimes provoking.

Note: First published in 1942 (and set in 1941) Embers has only just been translated into English, via a German translation from the original Hungarian.

March 2002

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%T Embers
%A Márai, Sándor
%M Hungarian
%F Janeway, Carol Brown
%I Penguin
%D 2001 [1942]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0141004312
%P 213pp