Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

Konrad had known that one day he would have to come back, just as the General had known that some day this moment would arrive. It was what both had lived for.
There are fairly few forms that nearly all our stories take. The two obvious ones are the re-enactments of The Fall and the Crucifixion. Less well recognized is just how many of our great books and movies are great love stories, but that center on the love between men. And never was this more true than in the great short novel by the Austro-Hungarian writer Sandor Marai. The author was a tragic figure, popular in the inter-war period but unacceptable to Nazis and Communists, he finally fled to Americam was forgotten and killed himself in San Diego just before he was rediscovered thanks to modern translators.

This story too is tragic. In the first half we are introduced to the aged General, who has retreated to his estate after the collapse of the Empire and now prepares himself for a confrontation with his schoolboy friend Konrad. Though the two had once been inseparable and seemed two sides of a coin, the latter had fled four decades earlier after a seeming affair with the General's wife. The collapse of that friendship, no less than of the social milieu they'd grown up in, has defined the General's life. In the second half, he engages in an extended monologue--as the fire dies to embers or the candles burn to the stub--puzzling out what happened to them as Konrad mostly listens.
"The second question," says the General, his hand still holding the door. "Namely, what did we win with all our intelligence and our pride and our presumption? Has the true meaning of our lives not been the agony of longing for a woman who is dead? It's a hard question, I know. I cannot answer it. I have done everything, seen everything, and yet this I cannot answer. I have seen peace, I have seen war, I have seen the glitter of empire and utter human misery, I have seen your cowardice amy own arrogance, I have seen combat and surrender. Yet I think that, at bottom, perhaps the significance of everything we did was in the ties that bound us to one particular person--ties, passion, call it what you will. Is that the question? Yes. I want you to tell me." His voice drops as if to foil some hidden listener behind him.

"What do you think? Do you also believe that what gives our lives their meaning is the passion that suddenly invades us heart, soul, and body, and burns in us forever, no matter what else happens in our lives? And that if we have experienced this much, then perhaps we haven't lived in vain? Is passion so deep and terrible and magnificent and inhuman? Is it indeed about desiring any one person, or is it about desiring desire itself? That is the question. Or perhaps, is it indeed about desiring a particular person, a single, mysterious other, once and for always, no matter whether that person is good or bad, and the intensity of our feelings bears no relationship to that individuals qualities or behavior? I would like an answer, if you can," he says, his voice louder and more imperious. "Why do you ask me?" says the guest quietly, "when you know that the answer is yes."
I understand that some object to the fact that this is a translation of a German translation, rather than from the original Hungarian, but it is such a powerful story as is it's hard to imagine it matters that much. It works as an elegy for the world before WWI and the Austro-Hungarian Empire generally and ultimately for the particular passionate friendship between two men. One can only wish that the author had survived to see his masterpiece hailed as such.


Grade: (A+)


Sandor Marai Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Sandor Marai
    -AUTHOR PAGE: Sandor Marai (Random House)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Sandor Marai (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: The Life of Sandor Marai (Hungary Foundation)
    -ENTRY: Sandor Marai (House of Hungary)
    -ENTRY: Sandor Marai (Poetry Foundation)
    -DOCUMENTARY VIDEO: Sándor Márai and Naples. The bitter taste of freedom (Vimeo)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Embers
    -EXCERPT: Embers Chapter 1
    -EXCERPT: from Esther's Inheritance
    -READING GUIDE: Embers (All Readers)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Embers (Grade Saver)
    -READING GUIDE: Embers (Penguin Random House)
    -INTERVIEW: Jacki Lyden talks with Carol Brown Janeway about her translation of the Hungarian novel Embers (Jacki Lyden, October 25, 2002, All Things Considered)
    -PROFILE: The candle that burned right down: George Szirtes on the lost masterpiece of Sándor Márai, a great Hungarian writer who died alone and forgotten (George Szirtes, 14 Dec 2001, The Guardian)
    -PODCAST: Embers(Stanford: Another Look Book Club)
    -ESSAY: "My homeland was Poland, Vienna, [...] Galicia": Introducing Sándor Márai and His Novel "Embers" (István Gombocz, 2007, Modern Austrian Literature)
    -ESSAY: Sándor Márai’s Literary Life After Death (OCT. 29, 2004, NY Magazine)
    -ESSAY: Sandor Marai and the memory of exile (Louise Ostermann Twardowski, 8 OCTOBER 2019, Kafka Desk)
    -ESSAY: After Death, a Literary Rebirth (SCOTT MARTELLE, JAN. 15, 2002, LA TIMES)
    -ESSAY: Poetry (Tibor Fischer, Standpoint)
    -ESSAY: Sándor Márai on Hungary’s nationalist, conservative, Christian heritage (Benjamin Novak, January 6, 2016, Budapest Beacon)
    -ESSAY: Sándor Márai (Steve King, April 11, 2011, B&N review: Daybook)
    -POEM ANALYSIS: Christmas 1956: Angel from Heaven by by Sandor Marai (loose translation by Michael R. Burch, The Hypertexts)
    -ARCHIVES: Sandor Marai (The Guardian)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: All His World’s a Stage: Characters in Sándor Márai’s novels behave like actors, hiding their true selves from readers. But could Márai see behind the masks of his own creations? (ROSS BENJAMIN, BookForum)
    -REVIEW: of Embers by Sandor Marai (The Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (J.M. Coetzee, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Michael Dirda, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Richard Eder, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Anna Shapiro, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Tibor Fischer, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Bob Corbett)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (ELISABETH RUSSELL TAYLOR, Foxed Quarterly)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Dardis McNamee, Vienna Review)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (De Amicitia: Transdisciplinary Studies in Friendship)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Doug Gibson, Standard Examiner)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Bella Stander, Wall Street Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (The Modern Novel)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Dan Schneider, Hackwriters)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Andrew Szegedy–Maszak, Wesleyan university Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (
    -REVIEW: of Embers (
    -REVIEW: of Embers (englishmaninslovakia…)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Reviews and Responses)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Seemita Das)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Europe Between East And West)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (A Common Reader)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Danny Yee, Danny's Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Interpolations)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Book Around the Corner)
    -REVIEW: of Embers (Mostly About Stories)
    -REVIEW: of Casanova in Bolzano (Conversations in Bolzano) by Márai Sándor (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Conversations in Bolzano (Elena Seymenliyska, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Casanova in Bolzano (Alan Cheuse, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Casanova (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Casanova (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Casanova (Adam Phillips, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Casanova (Chandrahas Choudhury, SF Gate)
    -REVIEW: of Casanova (Christopher Byrd, Believer)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of The Rebels by Sandor Marai (James Buchan, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Rebels (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Rebels (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Rebels (Arthur Philips, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Rebels (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Rebels (Winstonsdad's Blog)
    -REVIEW: of Rebels (Tibor Fischer, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Rebels (Robert Buckeye, Worlds Without Borders)
    -REVIEW: of Rebels (Ken Kreckel, Historical Novel Society)
    -REVIEW: of Esther's Inheritance by Sandor Marai (Maya Jaggi, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Esther's Inheritance (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Esther's Inheritance (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Esther's Inheritance (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Esther's Inheritance (John Spurling, The Sunday Times uk)
    -REVIEW: of Portraits of a Marriage by Sandor Marai (JESSICA LOUDIS, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Portraits of a Marriage (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Portraits of a Marriage (Aaron Thier, New Republic)
    -REVIEW: of Portraits of a Marriage (Lauren Bufferd, BookPage)
    -REVIEW: of Napló 1984-1989 by Márai Sándor (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Memoir of Hungary (1944-1948) by Sandor Marai (Johanna Granville, H-Net)
    -PLAY REVIEW: of Embers (The Stage)
    -INTERVIEW: An Interview with George Szirtes (PAUL SWEETEN, 31 October, 2011, The Oxonian Review)

Book-related and General Links: