Bibliophile reviews Embers (literature)

Author: Sándor Márai
Original title: A gyertyák csonkig egnék (Hungarian)
Translated into English by: Carol Brown Janeway
Published: 1942 (original), 2003 (translation)
Genre: Literature

Excerpt from Embers

It’s 1941 and an old general is living alone with his servants in a castle in the Carpathian forest. One day an old friend of his announces his arrival, and old memories bubble to the surface. The friend listens while the general talks about their childhood friendship and the events that led to the friend’s departure 41 years before.

This novel is a bit unusual in its set-up in that nearly two-thirds of the story is a monologue by one of the main characters. The interjections by the other main character are so few and short that it can’t really be called a dialogue. The first third of the story is scene setting, descriptions of people, places and situations, told in a conventional style. The story is slow, almost painfully so at times. The language is flowing, almost sensuous, and makes up for the slowness of the story. The translation, while I can not judge how accurate it is, is beautifully rendered and it is only in a few places that you can see it is a translation.

From the start, the general makes it clear that he is intent to be revenged on his friend for something he did, but for readers who expect blood or fury, this story will be a disappointment. The general’s monologue, besides being reminiscences of past events, is also a philosophical discourse about love and hate, the nature of friendship, of otherness, of revenge and forgiveness.

Read it for the language or for the cultural insights, but if you expect action, you will be sorely disappointed, because while there is plenty of emotion, there is no action to speak of. 3 stars.


Popular Posts