- Series: Vintage International
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Vintage (March 6, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1400096677
- ISBN-13: 978-1400096671
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #715,904 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Portraits of a Marriage (Vintage International) Paperback – March 6, 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This autopsy of a failed marriage shows a virtuosic control of character and tone meaningfully set against the ossification of the fin de siècle Austro-Hungarian empire. It starts with Ilonka, whose middle-class husband, Peter, is in love with his mother-in-law's maid, Judit. Ilonka's bitter tale of a fight to win her husband back, only to be outdone by the other woman, gives way to the same story told by Peter, itself followed by Judit's take. What emerges is a cubist portrait of a harsh love and a dying society, elegantly paced and delightfully contradictory. Ilonka, Peter, and Judit each possess strong philosophies on life and love, and Márai successfully probes the blind spots and conflicting assumptions in their varied points of view. With each new voice, each very much its own thanks to Szirtes's faultless new translation, Márai (1900–1989) builds suspense and reveals new layers and twists to this tale. Suffused with nostalgia and regret, the book evokes and examines both the nature of longing and the decline of a great empire. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*Starred Review* Three interior monologues stand as a triptych in the latest novel to be translated into English by a Hungarian writer who flourished in the 1930s. With this phenomenal novel, our conviction, based on the Márai novels already translated, including Embers (2001) and The Rebels (2007), is confirmed: he ranks as one of the twentieth century’s greatest novelists. The book’s title is apt; the three sections focus on the conditions of one particular marriage: that between a Budapest industrial magnate and his beautiful wife in the deceptively peaceful years between the world wars, when the “world had not been boarded over yet; for a moment everything—Europe, life itself—was bathed in intense light.” In seeking definitions of love, and in excercising his obviously abiding interest in the theme of loneliness in marriage, the author, in a glorious demonstration of psychological acuity, offers his powerful findings from three perspectives: from the husband and from the wife, naturally, but also from the servant girl in the man’s parents’ household who becomes his second wife. The idea that marriage partners keep information about themselves from each other is the outwardly simple, even ordinary, premise upon which the narrative rests; it is the author’s brilliant dissection of that situation that makes this novel so exceptional. The ultimate factor in deciding if the novel works is whether the three segments mesh well enough to give the reader a smoothly integrated whole picture, and Portraits of a Marriage is the last word on the effectiveness of the triple-voice technique. --Brad Hooper --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top customer reviews
The plot, in two spoiler-free sentences: the book tells the story of a love triangle. The first big chunk is narrated in the voice of the first wife, the second part is told by the husband, and the third part is told by the 2nd wife. Originally this was published as two novellas. I believe the first two parts were published as a single novella, "Az igazi" ("The real thing") in 1941, while the second half was published only in 1980 as "Judit... és az utóhang" ("Judith and the afterword"), although I am unsure when it was written. The translation is again by Hungarian-English poet George Szirtes, who does an excellent job.
I wonder if Portraits will find its audience, now that it has finally been published in English, because while the themes of Marai's previous books (love, friendship) are universal and will resonate in any time or society, Portraits is concerned, nay, obsessed with the struggle between societal class and love, a struggle that may not really interest most contemporary American readers, or at least not to the exhaustive lengths that Marai spends chronicling it.
In Portraits, Marai preserves a lost world, Hungary before WWII, a society stratified with nobility, upper middle class, middle class, "commoners", "peasants", and all sorts of finer gradations within those, all surreptitiously warring and conniving, in mostly tiny ways and gestures, for status. Money and power, too, but mainly (surprisingly or unsurprisingly) for status. Marai focuses especially on the values, habits, duties and weaknesses of those people either inhabiting or jockeying into Hungary's upper middle class, a kind of eradicated tribe (which ceased to exist after WWII and the communist years afterward), an extinct species that he attempts to preserve, as if in amber, for posterity.
Most of us have read books about class and love. Romeo and Juliet, the works of Jane Austen... But in those stories, the class element serves mostly as a plot device, an adversity the protagonist lovers must overcome (the Montagues vs. the Capulets, Emma can't marry Mr. Darcy because she's poor, or whatever). But Marai doesn't use class to create narrative tension. The tension between class and love, here, is his obsession. And again, I suspect that most readers today just aren't that interested in the topic, at least not 400 pages interested. The fact that there's only one other Amazon review so many months after publication bears my suspicion out.
Which is a shame, because Portraits is a titanic masterpiece. It is literature's reigning masterpiece on love and class, yes, but it's also a masterpiece by any measure, in almost any company. When Embers was first published in English in 2000, excited reviewers talked of re-assessing the 20th century literary pantheon, and the most eager among them suggested that Marai might rank among the greatest writers of the century: Joyce, Proust, Mann... I'm not sure if, now that the rush has worn off and more books published, they would stand by those assessments, but as more and more Marai becomes translated, his place in the pantheon only gets more assured, more deserved, in my opinion. He's a major writer, and this is his biggest, most complex, and, well, major work to be translated so far. (The man wrote over 40 books, so who knows what yet remains!).
Marai again proves himself a genius of humanity in Portraits. Like Proust, he understands exactly how people really think, how they really behave, and captures it all perfectly on paper. He's the kind of writer where every few pages you think (or exclaim), "Yes, that's exactly how life is!" Although Marai knows a narrative trick or two and knows how to craft page-turning plots, in his way, what really keeps you glued to the page is Marai's wisdom. It's a term that can mean many things, but this is "wisdom literature" in its finest and purest sense: the thoughts of an almost superhumanly wise individual. It takes a master to not only bring characters to life as completely as Marai does here, with his three very different protagonists, but to speak so convincingly in their voices.
If you enjoyed Embers or Marai's other books, give Portraits a try. There is so much more to be written about this incredible book.
I read this book 10 years ago and it transformed my life completely. I was depressed and now I am in total harmony with myself and it helped me step into truth and shedd social lies my marriage was embedded in.
Warning, not for the faint-hearted, hippocrates, social white-liers, self-manipulators.
This book is a must read for all life-coaches, psychologists, therapists, priests, rabbis, psychiatrists, social workers, family councelors or anybody dealing with the deep insight of humans.
The illusions we all harbor under, even when they destroy our lives. The price we pay to live even the most painful fictions.
This book tells the details of two marriages (same man; different women) and how all lives are impacted. It's painful to watch the train wrecks and illusion but we/I see ourselves in the characters. One of the best not a love story I've read. I wish more people could write about such conflicting issues with such depth.
It's lovely too (but ever so sad).