Jane's Reviews > Embers

Embers by Sándor Márai
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's review
Sep 03, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites
Recommended for: Just about everyone.
Read from November 10 to December 15, 2009 , read count: 1

One of the more beautiful books that I've read. I wish I'd actually taken Hungarian seriously when I was trying to learn it because I'm sure a lot of the beauty of the prose was lost in translation, but Carol Brown Janeway does do an excellent job of translating.

On the cover is a review by the Washington Post calling this novel "perfect," which is a bold claim and potentially sets the reader up for disappointment. I wasn't disappointed, though - "perfect" comes close, if only for the prose, but it's got a hell of a lot more going for it than that. The plot centers around two lifelong friends who haven't seen or spoken to one another in the decades following an incident at the estate of one of them. The old general lives alone in his dilapidated mansion and begins reminiscing about his youth when he discovers that his friend, who has been away in the tropics since their falling out, is back in Hungary to find closure. The novel is not only about memory, mortality, betrayal, forgiveness, love (romantic and brotherly), violence, but also an allegory of the aristocracy and the history of Hungary and the loss of the glory of the general and his youth and the glory of the world he inhabits. As he ages, so to does his estate crumble around him and the romantic world he once inhabited is lost to time.

Nearly the entirety of the book is written as a monologue (from the general), and that may be why people I've recommended this book to sometimes say that they didn't like it because "nothing happened." True, it's not plot-heavy, but it was, for me, a page-turner.

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