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Embers Paperback – August 13, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 190 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Sándor Márai's Embers, two old men, once the best of friends, meet after a 41-year break in their relationship. They dine together, taking the same places at the table that they had assumed on the last meal they shared, then sit beside each other in front of a dying fire, one of them nearly silent, the other one, his host, slowly and deliberately tracing the course of their dead friendship. This sensitive, long-considered elaboration of one man's lifelong grievance is as gripping as any adventure story and explains why Márai's forgotten 1942 masterpiece is being compared with the work of Thomas Mann. In some ways, Márai's work is more modern than Mann's. His brevity, simplicity, and succinct, unadorned lyricism may call to mind Latin American novelists like Gabriel García Márquez, or even Italo Calvino. It is the tone of magical realism, although Márai's work is only magical in the sense that he completely engages his reader, spinning a web of words as his wounded central character describes his betrayal and abandonment at the hands of his closest friend. Even the setting, an old castle, evokes dark fairy tales.

The story of the rediscovery of Embers is as fascinating as the novel itself. A celebrated Hungarian novelist of the 1930s, Márai survived the war but was persecuted by the Communists after they came to power. His books were suppressed, even destroyed, and he was forced to flee his country in 1948. He died in San Diego in 1989, one year before the neglected Embers was finally reprinted in his native land. This reprint was discovered by the Italian writer and publisher Roberto Calasso, and the subsequent editions have become international bestsellers. All of Márai's novels are now slated for American publication. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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 siŠcle 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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 13, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375707425
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375707421
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (190 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #227,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I was moved to add my voice to your reviews of "Embers" for two reasons: because it is such an excellent piece of literature, and because I have read it in its original Hungarian and now in English. Viewing it from such a unique perspective, I can say that it is an outstanding translation and is as effective in English as in Hungarian. While the setting may seem exotic to Americans, the problems it explores are deeply psychological and universal to mankind. While it may not be the choice of readers of popular action novels, it would appeal to serious readers of fine literature. (I speak as one who has worked as a translator, written fiction, and holds degrees in psychology.) The book explores the friendship and love of two men and the meaning of the rift that tears them apart for 41 years and defines the existence of at least one of them for the remainder of his life. The novel is developed masterfully, solely from the viewpoint of one of the men, through his well planned monologue in the presence of his friend, during which he wrestles aloud with the great questions that have defined his life. In the end we realize that the presence of his friend is almost incidental, as the speaker has come to grips with his questions through internal dialogue and soul searching over 41 years of self-enforced withdrawal from the world. In the end he seems content with his conclusions and complete within himself, having answered his own questions, although the presence of his friend was necessary in order to achieve his piece of mind.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a diamond: brilliant, clear, cold, and hard.
The language is particularly remarkable because the credits state that that the English transation of this book was made not from the orginal Hungarian but from the German translation of the Hungarian. It is a double tour de force of the translators' art.
Among this work's many charms is the period detail of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the very end of its long run, and an Old World culture that still echoes in memories of the airs and graces of immigrant grandparents. They say that history is written by the victorious (in war); well, although literature is most frequently published by the victorious as well, the vanquished keep on writing, and manuscripts don't burn.
As other reviewers have stated, the arresting story line of this book is told in the course of a single evening, but covers the lives of two old men beginning from the time they were boys, and centering an ambiguous act or acts of betrayal which occured at their last meeting forty-one years earlier.
There is not a single extraneous word, or wasted image, in this volume. This becomes more obvious upon second reading once one has satisfied oneself that one has solved, to the extent possible, the mystery presented in the storyline. The depth and subtlety of psychological insight that Marai brings to this work is astonishing.
The effect is a combination of the film "My Dinner with Andre," but without the humor, as written by Josephine Hart, the author of _Damage_. What is truly phenomenal to the 21st century American reader is that an author of such power and mastery could have lived and died (in Los Angeles, or thereabouts, in 1989!) utterly unknown until recently.
I disagree with comparisons of this author to Proust or Dostoevsky. He is more nearly akin to Pushkin, and this work can stand next to the _Queen of Spades_. You will not regret the time spent reading this book.
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Format: Hardcover
The good news is that a substantial body of work from Mr. Sandor Marai of Hungary has been found once again, in a manner of speaking, and for those who love brilliant writing, the Publisher Knoph is translating his work into English. His novel, "Embers" is one of the better books I have read this year.
An old castle in The Carpathian Mountains is the setting for what approaches a monologue. The mood of the book is consistent with another who hailed from these mountains as Vlad The Impaler. The book is not a horror novel, rather a disturbing psychological thriller that explores what is truly at the heart of an issue after it has been examined for over 4 decades. Coincidentally the age of the author when he wrote the work, and the time that expires between one dinner between the closest of friends and its sequel, are both 42 years. The book is remarkable as he writes of the view of life from the perspective of people in their 8th and 10th decades of life, and the prose reads as authoritative and appropriate. It reads like a man who has lived twice as long as the author had lived when he penned this work. The writing is wise.
Mr. Marai takes a familiar theme that would normally result in rapid responses from those involved, and instead suspends any conclusion for over 4 decades. He presents two boys that grow up together and form bonds that are so absolute, there is nowhere for their friendship to improve. Their bond is complete; their backgrounds are polar opposites, which may give rise to the fall. There is an intentional breach, and then there is an event that never gets beyond the "almost" stage. Had it occurred it would have been the greatest of tragedies.
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