Embers

by Sándor Márai

Paper Book, 2001

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : A.A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 2001.

Description

Publisher description: In a secluded woodland castle an old General prepares to receive a rare visitor, a man who was once his closest friend but who he has not seen in forty-one years. Over the ensuing hours host and guest will fight a duel of words and silences, accusations and evasions. They will exhume the memory of their friendship and that of the General's beautiful, long-dead wife. And they will return to the time the three of them last sat together following a hunt in the nearby forest--a hunt in which no game was taken but during which something was lost forever.

Media reviews

I zde se autor dotýká otázek protikladů mezi životní rolí a bytostnou podstatou člověka, mezi rozumem a vášní, touhou po řádu a skrytými instinkty a ptá se, „kudy vede hranice zrady“ mezi dvěma lidmi a nakolik můžeme poznat tajemství druhého člověka. Tajemství je zde jedním z hlavních motivů knihy, který se promítá nejen do příběhu, ale též do jazykového stylu knihy. Novela je od začátku do konce prodchnuta implicitním napětím, přestože její rámec vyznívá na první pohled velmi staticky a tempo vyprávění je pomalé a klidné. Máraiho smysl pro vystižení atmosféry a jeho vytříbený cit pro detail a „znakovou řeč bezvědomosti“ vytvořily z jednoho nočního rozhovoru u planoucích svící drama o přátelství, zradě, vášni a neskonalé samotě, které svou sugestivní atmosférou strhne čtenáře již od prvních stránek.
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A tak ten krásný text o životě, o stáří, o neuvěřitelně detailní, až pedantské paměti a shovívavém nadhledu nad jednou životní etapou, schopným a toužícím pochopit, ale nehodlajícím odpouštět, zůstává poutavý tím, že dává více možností vysvětlení, rozhřešení. Dokládá starou pravdu o tom, že „Na dně každé lásky, každého lidského vztahu je ukryt Eros…“
Sándor Márai, který zemřel v roce 1989, měl vytříbený jazyk, dokonalý vypravěčský smysl a jeho knihy dokáží přikovat k židli a neodložit knihu do té doby, než se dostanete na poslední stránku. V průběhu čtení mě napadlo, že i kdyby mi Márai vyprávěl telefonní seznam, napjatě bych seděl a ani nedutal. Slova jsou jako třpytící se ranní rosa na zelené trávě. Atmosféra knihy je jako temná hluboká studánka, na povrchu klid, ale když se dostáváte ke dnu, mrazí vás. Naskočí vám husí kůže, ale vy přesto chcete poznat více. A nedá vám to spát, dokud se nedovíte pravdu. Ale tím to nekončí. Když totiž přijdete na to, co vedlo všechny zúčastněné k jejich činům, začnete přemýšlet. A napadne vás, jak byste se zachovali vy, být v jejich situaci. Takové mají být knihy, nejen ji dočíst a nezapomenout na ni. Máte se k ní ve svých vzpomínkách vracet.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Imagine spending 41 years of your life mostly alone, and left to ponder the events of one emotionally wrenching day. The book opens with Henrik, a 75-year-old retired general, awaiting the arrival of Konrad, a close friend from his youth whom he has not seen since that significant day. The first third of the book sets up their shared history which began as 10-year-old schoolboys who formed an unusually strong bond, because or in spite of their very different socioeconomic backgrounds. They spent their school days and their holidays together, and Konrad was accepted as a member of Henrik's family. On finishing school, they grew into adulthood together through military service, but their relationship ended abruptly.

With this foundation laid, the story picks up with Konrad arriving to have dinner with Henrik. The table is set exactly as it was the last time they were together. Past events unfold through Henrik's voice, as he seeks to learn more about Konrad's life and uncover the truth which has been the source of so much pain over the years. This pain has smoldered, like the embers of the title, consuming Henrik body and soul. As the meal and the night wear on, the nature of their conflict is revealed in tiny fragments leading to the inevitable conclusion.

Sandor Marai weaves a tale that is surprisingly compelling, since it is told through primarily through Henrik's one-sided conversation with Konrad. The narrative's emotional depth was surprising. All too often, male friendships are portrayed as superficial. It was the strength of their bond, and the searing pain felt by both Henrik and Konrad is precisely what makes Embers such a special work.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
Sandor Marai was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1900 and became famous as a literary novelist. He was driven from Hungary after WWII due to his strong antifascist views and never again lived in his native country. Recently his work has been rediscovered and translated into English. Embers was first published in Budapest in 1942, and this translation was released in the United States in 2001.

The novel opens in a castle in Hungary sometime in the early twentieth century when an elderly General receives a letter from a boyhood friend he hasn’t seen or talked to for over 41 years. Marai then spirals back in time to orient the reader to the General’s early years growing up as the privileged son of the Officer of the Guards. Henrik’s future was laid out for him to become a soldier of status, and early in his life he meets Konrad - a poor, musically gifted boy whose roots lie in Poland. The two boys become unlikely friends. The reader is also introduced to Nini - a nursemaid who has been with Henrik for 75 years having helped birth him. She is a mysterious figure and the only person with whom Henrik seems to have developed a lasting and meaningful relationship.

Once the stage is set, Marai returns the reader to present day - a day swathed in anticipation and secrets as Konrad arrives at the castle to dine with Henrik and discuss the last time they saw each other. Henrik has become a man of solitude, living mostly alone in the castle and waiting for the day when Konrad would return to reveal his motivations for abandoning Henrik.

Marai’s writing is drenched in mood and suspense. The castle stands in a wilderness filled with deer and bear, candles flicker, and the dead are brought back to life with Henrik’s recollections of a time long gone. The beautiful Krisztina, Henrik’s wife who has now been dead more than eighteen years, now seems to hover in the background.

With tremendous skill, Marai writes of guilt, betrayal, love and revenge while he unravels the story of Henrik and Konrad and why they parted many years before.

Marai is a skilled writer who crafts a story of two men and their friendship. He asks difficult and thought-provoking questions about the nature of humans and why they do what they do. Marai’s writing is eloquent. His narration is magnificently constructed which creates the suspense in what is largely a character driven novel.

In the end, two questions are posed which are left for the reader to answer - not a neat ending, but a thoughtful one.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
Initially I was quite caught up in this novel focused on the meeting of two former friends after a 41-year estrangment. Marai creates a striking atmosphre, and I wondered first what had come between the General and Konrad, and then what the General now hoped to learn from Konrad.

But somewhere, about 2/3 through the novel, I started to get bored with it. It began to remind me of Strindberg's one-act play, The Stronger, in which two women, former friends, meet in a coffee shop. In both works, one character (the General in Embers, Mrs. X in The Stronger) keeps up a running monologue of thoughts, observations, and questions, while the other either remains silent by choice or is cut off by the talker whenever he/she wishes to respond. It worked well in a one-act play, with the dominant character ultimately adding up the evidence of what had happened and insisting that she had 'won' their competition in the end. In Embers, however, it just went on too long and became a rather tedious, pretentious rant vaguely attempting to philosophize about human nature. I can understand why other readers liked the book so much, but it just wasn't to my taste.… (more)
LibraryThing member jeniwren
The story takes place in a castle at the foot of the Carpathian mountains in the 1930's. Two men, close friends in their youth meet after forty years. This separation involved a woman and an act of betrayal and as they are nearing the end of their lives the truth is to be revealed.
This was a disappointing read and never lived up to the hype . Nice prose but there was a tendency for the story to meander at times and the long winded meditations from the viewpoint of the General became tediously repetitious. On the list for the 1001 Books you must read before you die .… (more)
LibraryThing member CBJames
The general has been waiting for the return of his childhood friend Konrad for 41 years. 41 years ago their lifelong friendship came to an abrupt end, and Konrad left the country without a word of goodbye. For 41 years The General has lived like a hermit, alone in his ancestral castle, receiving only a handful of visitors, servants and employees, business partners.

As the novel opens The General learns that his old friend has at last returned and will be arriving that evening for one final dinner. 

When they were in school, the two men had a rare friendship:

All societies recognize these relationships instinctively and envy them; men yearn for disinterested friendship and usually they yearn in vain. The boys in the academy took refuge in family pride or in their studies, in precocious debauchery or physical prowess, in the confusions of premature and painful infatuations. In this emotional turbulence the friendship between Konrad and Henrik had the glow of a quiet and ceremonial oath of loyalty in the Middle Ages.

How this friendship came to be and what forced the two men to part ways are the subject of Embers. As The General prepares for his guest, the narrator tells the story of a friendship between a boy born into priveledge and a boy whose parents sold everything they had just to keep him in school. After Konrad arrives, the two sit down for dinner and we learn the rest of their story through their conversation. The General has been waiting 41 years for his chance to question Konrad about the events of their final day together. He will not let the evening pass without hearing the truth at last.

Embers is a quiet novel, but a novel full of tension. We don't learn until late in the story why the two men's friendship ended so abruptly, and it's the desire to know this that gives the book it's forward momentum. But it's a problematic device, because it is a device. The dinner the two men share is a long one, made longer by the chapter length speach The General insists on giving Konrad. The two have waited too long to reconcile, so long that when the time for relevation finally comes around, neither is all that interested.

Unfortunately, the same will be true for many readers.
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LibraryThing member Gary10
Translated from Hungarian. Very well written short story of an old aristrocrat confronting his best friend--who he has not seen in 41 years--about their mutual infatuation with the woman who is the old aristorcrat's wife.
LibraryThing member Bridget770
Incredible book. The story is not a new one; it's probably the oldest in the world. A rich, powerful man and his best friend have a complicated, intense relationship. Then the rich man marries and the friendship changes with life-changing consequences. It was beautifully written and so indescribably engaging. I did not want it to end.… (more)
LibraryThing member alwright1
This book, a novel set in a single evening, was very striking. The story, and the bit of a mystery, push you forward in the text quickly. While most of the last two thirds of the book is practically one long soliloquy, it is not hard to stay interested. However, I do tire of being told all of the things of which women are apparently incapable (the character is particularly insistent about our lack of ability to form true friendships, the gold standard for which is apparently his bizarre, scorn-filled, misogynistic, envy-laced brotherhood with a man he desires jealously, but can never fully understand...right). Besides that, I found it compelling and occasionally even thoughtful.… (more)
LibraryThing member John
Embers is a terrific book. It is a jewel of tight, spare prose that explores, in relatively short length, the deep, intersecting emotions of love, friendship, fidelity, passion, betrayal, courage, lust, revenge, hate. The time is 1940. A retired Austrian army general sits alone in his magnificent, isolated forest castle, where he awaits the visit, after an absence of 41 years, of a man who was, for 24 years, his closet friend in the world, but whom he has not seen since an unexplained, abrupt departure. The two men, now well into their 70s, talk throughout the night; actually the general does most of the talking as he unburdens 41 years of contemplation in waiting for this moment. The general's oral exploration and exposition of his feelings and conclusions are remarkable. A book to be savoured and shared. Highly recommended.

(May/06)
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LibraryThing member mldavis2
A powerful book of friendship, jealousy, love and revenge, Embers is unlike anything you're likely to read. The protagonist examines the definition of friendship in a soliloquy that is both suspenseful and philosophical when he is visited by an old friend of forty years. I found this a masterpiece of 20th century literature, crafted by an Hungarian author, a book that will return to the reader's memory. The translation is well done from the original Hungarian into English.

I read this as a Kindle edition which was well formatted except for an occasional missing space between words.
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LibraryThing member Maryka
This novel is so finely rendered, so raw in its honesty, and so moving and singular, that it forces self-reproach upon me. How is it that I never before heard of it? Could it be because the author, Sándor Márai, was Hungarian? Or because, though published in 1942, it was not translated into English until 2001?

I only stumbled upon this work because my mother, ever the bargain hunter, found it in the stack of books being put out to pasture at her public library. But Márai's novel Embers is so touching that it should be widely known, and I, who pride myself on being familiar with such obscure gems as Zeno's Conscience and Wide Sargasso Sea, am puzzled and shaken by my failure to have previously unearthed it.

Still, I wonder: Why did it not, even after its translation, meet with more notice? Is it because we Americans seldom search out or pay homage to writers beyond our own boundaries? Then I am ashamed for us. For Márai, who lived from 1900 to 1989, not only straddled many countries and cultures (including the U.S.) but also witnessed important transitions -- from the dying of the Austro-Hungarian empire to the rise and fall of fascism to the birth of the modern democratic world.

Could it be that Embers -- a profound meditation on friendship, honor, and the art of patience and conversation -- is too old-fashioned in its subject to stir contemporary readers? Do we require a story that begins with a bang and holds us by the throat with flying bullets or careening cars? Then we modern readers have lost something, for the relentless unwinding of Márai's tale -- over a conversation between old friends, no less -- is as suspenseful and inexorable as any of Edgar Allan Poe's tales.

Or does our quest for the next new "high concept" keep us from casting our gaze back to books that may, by their very reflection on times gone by, provide us with fresh lessons? Are we so caught up in the modern world, with all its hubbub, buzz, and gadgetry, that we eschew the books that reward us only if we pause to contemplate their fervent sincerity?

I can only cast off my own self-reproach over having missed this book by urging it upon others. If you wish to explore the deep meaning of friendship, if you dare to reflect on what it means to truly encounter another person, I challenge you to search out and read Sándor Márai's Embers. And I promise: If you give yourself over to the world it creates, you will find the sodden everydayness of life scratched away; you will be renewed by a deep appreciation for writing from the heart and wonderment at the rawness of human emotion laid bare.
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LibraryThing member kambrogi
This 1942 Hungarian novel was translated into English in 2001. It is a fascinating tale of two childhood friends who grow to be men together, and then experience a painful incident that separates them for forty-one years. As elderly men, they are at last to be reunited and one character meditates on the early years as he waits for his friend to arrive. Tension is created because the source of their estrangement is not revealed for some time, and the story, with its compelling but sharply contrasting characters, makes for excellent reading -- until near the end. At that point, some of the details of the story are hard to swallow, and the narration sinks into a long-winded meditation in the voice of the protagonist, finished by an ending that fails to clarify or resolve the issues of the novel. Nonetheless, the book creates the aura of its times beautifully, and is an absorbing treatment of friendship, character and pride in the bygone era of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – and today.… (more)
LibraryThing member JimElkins
Translated by a brilliant translator, but from the German. It reads more abstractly and neutrally than it probably should. The interest is in the embers: the last moments of feeling after years of pondering and mulling on events that happened a half-lifetime before.

Marai has been criticized, in "Bookforum" (2008) for being more recherché than his supporters want to admit. That may be so, but here the nearly petrified, nearly mummified, dampened, nearly voiceless and actionless atmosphere, where almost nothing moves and every thought and feeling has been last felt so long ago that only its paperthin husk remains in memory, works perfectly.… (more)
LibraryThing member Karlus
Why would two elderly gentlemen, who were once inseparably the best of friends, not have seen each other for 41 years? Until one day, Konrad asks to visit the General in their waning days on Earth?
The novel takes place over dinner one evening, as the General explains to Konrad, and to us the initially bewildered reader, what he has had endless time to think about in those 41 years. What begins as a novel of friendship becomes an artfully constructed mystery and then a story of excruciating suspense as the General explains wordily the one and only answer that seems possible. At the end, we have the answer. And only one question remains.
At times artful, and at other times highly artificial, the book becomes impossible to put down once the story gets going. Despite the colorful background settings of life in imperial Vienna and in the Orient, this story has the manner of an unconventional detective story where the solution is gradually unfolded almost before the reader even knows there was a puzzle to be explained. Recommended for lovers of the genre. It's different.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
This book is excellent not just for how it is written and how well it is structured, but for the author's ability to demonstrate his ideas through what is not said.
LibraryThing member MelmoththeLost
According to Amazon:

Originally published in 1942 and now rediscovered to international acclaim, this taut and exquisitely structured novel by the Hungarian master Sandor Marai conjures the melancholy glamour of a decaying empire and the disillusioned wisdom of its last heirs.

In a secluded woodland castle an old General prepares to receive a rare visitor, a man who was once his closest friend but who he has not seen in forty-one years. Over the ensuing hours host and guest will fight a duel of words and silences, accusations and evasions. They will exhume the memory of their friendship and that of the General’s beautiful, long-dead wife. And they will return to the time the three of them last sat together following a hunt in the nearby forest--a hunt in which no game was taken but during which something was lost forever. Embers is a classic of modern European literature, a work whose poignant evocation of the past also seems like a prophetic glimpse into the moral abyss of the present.
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This proved to be a quite extraordinary book, as the Amazon summary quoted by Lindlec suggests.

In a sense it's difficult to say something which Amazon hasn't and I'm reluctant to merely parrot what has been previously said about this profoundly claustrophobic and elegiac book, wrapped in stillness and the ruminations of the decades upon events which happened half a lifetime previously.

It's a novel filled with not exactly dialogue but with long meditations upon friendship, loyalty and betrayal and yet it is in the silences that the questions are truly asked and answers given. It was a slow and delicate read in which the events of decades past were teased apart as carefully and as gently as the wrappings of an Egyptian mummy.

Like few other books it repays reading at a leisurely pace, for answers to questions which have hung in the air for 40 years do not deserve to be rushed.
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LibraryThing member pw0327
I just finished this book and it is an amazing read. Novel grabbed me from the first sentence, and it kept me enraptured until the very last sentence. The flow of the words, the coherence of thought, and the descriptions were all impressively alluring. What was most impressive is the thought and emotional forethought that went into plotting the novel. I truly enjoyed the story but the way the story was told was simply exquisite.

I bought the book the week of Christmas, and I read it over the holidays. It wasn't hard reading but it was very satisfying.

Some have found fault with the translator's work. All I can say is that the translated text flowed beautifully and the plot was nicely relayed to the reader.

I have Casanova in Bolzano on my nightstand right now. I can't wait to start reading.
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LibraryThing member southpaw
Delightful, unusual and beautifully atmospheric story, which gripped me from the start.
LibraryThing member snash
As a conversation (mostly one sided) between two estranged friends late in their lives, the book uses a plot and suspense to explore many philosophical questions, most importantly, the meaning of life. Perhaps because I'm old enough to spend more time pondering than living, I found the book thought provoking and one I will continue to enjoy as I mull its points over. It was slow (as the topic would dictate) and there were dated attitudes, ie. the way men are, the way women are.… (more)
LibraryThing member vkindt
This book is an absolute gem. It is not a plot-driven book. It is more a philosphical treatise than a novel and that is where its value lies in my opinion. The story itself is rather banal but beautiful nevertheless. I found the greatest pleasure in Marai's reflections on friendship, loneliness and love. I found the structure of the book to be unusual. It drew me in from the first line. Unlike some other readers I had no need to hear Conrad's story or Krisztina's. That was not the point of the novel. As the General so clearly puts it, it is superfluous. I hope to reread this book regularly… (more)
LibraryThing member gilporat
The long speeches were interesting. I'm glad I read it, but I'm not sure I would suggest it to others.
LibraryThing member kblaas
Haunting story of two men meeting for the first time in decades after having loved the same woman. A tale of friendship, memory, and the bond a woman can forge between two men.
LibraryThing member stilton
I read this during a particularly damp winter on a succession of particularly old and cold busses. Good story, terrific atmosphere.
LibraryThing member autumnc
Do Hungarians feel more deeply? To read this, you would think so. The book is beautiful, dark, unbelievable. The relationship between the two friends is something to behold. I can only hope that the translation from Hungarian does justice to Marai's original intention.
LibraryThing member BudaBaby
Suspenseful novel about deceipt, betrayal, and revenge, and how love destroyed three lives. The style is reminiscent of Marquez, where the ghosts of the past still have a strong hand in the present, because they have the ability to suspend time.

Language

Original language

Hungarian

Other editions

Embers by Sándor Márai (Paper Book)
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