Embers by Sándor Márai

783505Fiction — print. Translated from the Hungarian by Carol Brown Janeway. Vintage, 2002. Originally published 1942. 224 pgs. Purchased.

I purchased this book simply because it was written by a Hungarian. Since traveling to Hungary in March of this year, I’ve wanted to read more Hungarian literature. Márai’s novel was published in Budapest in 1942 but lost until 2001.

At the surface the novel is about an old aristocrat named General/Henrik waiting to greet the friend named Konrad he has not seen for forty-one years. However, the real focus is on a triangular relationship between the General, his wife Krisztina, and his best friend. The pace is sedate. Philosophical and poetic passages dominate the tale as they discuss the meaning of love, friendship, betrayal, and fidelity.

But there were also passages in which the time the novel was written and/or set (1900) distracted from the other beautiful passages. Lengthy discussions about how Arabs (read: Muslims) are bloodthirsty killers whilst Christians only mean to bring about civilization had me stewing over their arrogance and xenophobia.

I was more interested in the background of other characters particularly that of Henrik’s lifelong nurse named Nini and was distracted by their appearance in the tale. Ultimately, the book failed to make the impact on me that it was probably meant to have.

One comment

  1. I’ve read it last year and it was completely forgettable. The only think I remember is a conversation in a lonely house in the woods. Don’t even recall any arrogance and xenophobia, which is strange. I wonder why this is considered such a classic…


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