K.D. Absolutely's Reviews > Embers

Embers by Sándor Márai
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Aug 15, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: 1001-core, 501, favorites
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010); 501 Must Read Books
Read from May 10 to 11, 2011 , read count: 1

** spoiler alert ** Embers is perfect. I just cannot find anything not to like about this book. It’s a kind of book I have never quite read before. It’s a simple novel but will definitely stay in my memory for a long time. To think that it sat there, gathering dust, in my bookshelves for more than 2 years. What a pity if I died without reading this flawlessly engrossing work. I only picked this because it is thin and seemed to me like a quick read. I was behind by 8 books in my 2011 Reading Challenge here in Goodreads last weekend and I thought of catching up.

Sandor Marai (1900-1989), a Hungarian novelist and journalist, wrote Embers in Hungarian when he was 42 and already living in San Diego, CA. He had to flee Hungary during the Nazi occupation not because he was a Jew but because he was profoundly an anti-Fascist. Just like Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson and Richard Brautigan he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. He was 89 years old. His works had been largely forgotten outside of Hungary and were only “rediscovered” in 1992 when Embers was re-published in France then translated to other European languages. In fact, Marai’s works are now considered as part of the European Twentieth Century literary canon. (Source: Wiki).

Embers or “The Candles Burn Down to the Stump” is written in a precise and clear realist-style narrative. It tells the story of two male friends: the rich man, Henrik and a poor man, Konrad. Their friendship started when they were in school and Henrik introduced Konrad to his rich father. They became best friends, almost like real brothers and inseparable. Kondrad was even the one who introduced a girl called Krisztina to him who later became Henrik’s wife. Then one day, when the two men were 34 years old, they went hunting and Henrik saw that Konrad was aiming his gun at him. Later that day, the three, Henrik, Konrad and Krisztina, had their last dinner together in Henrik’s castle. The following day, Konrad left to Singapore without saying goodbye. Henrik went to Konrad’s apartment and when he was about to leave, he saw Krisztina there and uttered her last word to Henrik: “Coward”. From that day on, Hendrik and Krisztina separated by living in the different buildings in Henrik’s property. They did not talk to each other until Krisztina’s death 8 years after. On her deathbed, Krisztina was calling for Henrik.

The novel opens when Henrik is 75 years old and Krisztina has been dead for 33 years. Henrik receives a letter from Konrad, also 75, saying that Konrad will come for dinner that same day. What follows next is the slow and engrossing unfolding of truth on what happened 41 years ago: during the hunt, the dinner and the day at Konrad’s apartment. The plot is this thin and almost no twists. The storytelling is dominated by Henrik’s monologue that is a mixture of lamentation, reminiscences and philosophy but delivered in composed, swift, firm yet almost in monotone. That style makes the mood of the novel as chilling, suspenseful and mind-boggling as it delves into the core of our being human: the pain of friendship, love, betrayal, revenge and acceptance. For 41 years, Hendrik only thought of that day and he waited for Konrad’s return to know the truth. The slow unfolding of it amidst the eerie locale - Hungarian castle in the middle of the forest – the silence, the dark and the image of the two old men talking to each other. The slowness of the development of the story strangely makes the reading interesting. It is like the slow opening of the castle’s door with all the creaking sound while the stillness of the night reverberates in one’s brain.

The only caution? If you are a type of a reader who wants fast-paced action and lots of twist, don’t go for this book. I guess you will appreciate this more if you are at least in your middle-age already and/or you’ve been wronged or hurt by a loved one before and you haven’t forgiven him or her. Marai’s words, uttered by Hendrik, can be a good start for you to find forgiveness lurking somewhere inside your heart.
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Reading Progress

05/10/2011 page 82
37.0% "Suspenseful. What is it that the General is referring to about finding out the "truth" from his old time friend? After 41 years!"
02/23/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-33 of 33) (33 new)

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message 1: by Teresa (new)

Teresa I definitely have to read this. Thanks, K.D.

Velvetink great! Another new (to me) writer to check out.

butter be scotch What a wonderful review. :]

PS: I'm confused of "Sandor Marai (1990-1989)". What do you mean of 1990-1989?

K.D. Absolutely BUTTER: Born and died dates. It helps me in many things: when the author wrote the book in relation to other events of his life, other world events, works of other authors, his possible contemporaries, trends during that time he lived or wrote his works, etc.

butter be scotch Yes. But when I tried to google it, its different.
(April 11, 1900 – February 22, 1989) and not 1990-1989. @____@

K.D. Absolutely Ha ha! He was born in 1990 and died a year before LOL! You have eyes of an eagle! ha ha

butter be scotch K.D. wrote: "Ha ha! He was born in 1990 and died a year before LOL! You have eyes of an eagle! ha ha"

I'm a slow reader. I usually read a sentence or two twice. However, its too bad I can't see errors in my work until I give it a week rest. <_<

K.D. Absolutely :)

message 9: by Louize (new)

Louize Ugh! You did not disclose what did happen...
Now,I have to read it. *pout*

message 10: by K.D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

K.D. Absolutely LOUIZE: Yes, I carefully did not. I hope you'll like this too. Thanks :)

message 11: by TJ (new)

TJ Your diverse choice of books never ceases to amaze me! This one looks like something I would be interested in. Thank you KD!

message 12: by K.D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

K.D. Absolutely You're welcome, Tammy! :)

Ellie I loved your review-and Embers is a favorite book of mine too.

I agree with Tammy-your range of reading is wonderful.

message 14: by K.D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

K.D. Absolutely Thanks, Ellie. I also admire your taste on books and 4,000+ in your shelves? It's simply mind-boggling! :)

TK421 Well said. I read this in grad school (about 5 years ago) and I have been meaning to reread it. Now that I am older, I think I will appreciate the nuances of the novel a lot more. Great review.

TK421 Since you liked this one so well, try SILK by Alessandro Baricco. Another slow burn, but the writing will move you...at least it did me.

message 17: by K.D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

K.D. Absolutely Gavin, I've read that already. I think I gave it a 4-star rating. Have you read Richard Brautigan's ON WATERMELON SUGAR? That's another short and sweet novel. I think I gave it a 4-star too.

Thank you for the like!

TK421 K.D. wrote: "Gavin, I've read that already. I think I gave it a 4-star rating. Have you read Richard Brautigan's ON WATERMELON SUGAR? That's another short and sweet novel. I think I gave it a 4-star too.


I have not read that one by Brautigan, but I have read a few--three or four. His books are beginning to sound all the same to me.

message 19: by K.D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

K.D. Absolutely Oh well. I have only read a book by him. My next read is supposed to be his "Williard and the Bowling Trophy" (or something like that) and I am postponing it because of what you just said.

message 20: by Rollie (new)

Rollie Di ko alam kung bakit pero parang pangteenager ang dating ng review mo sakin. super nice.

Kalliope This book is beautiful. It can be read almost in one sitting while listening repeatedly to Richard Strauss' "Four Last Songs".

It was produced as a play in London with Jeremy Irons in the role of Henrik. Unfortunately, I did not see the play.

message 22: by K.D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

K.D. Absolutely Kalliope, I agree!!!

I read this last year. From time to time, I adjust the ratings of the books I've read to "smoothen out the kinks" so to speak. You see, as I read more and more books, my definition of amazing (5 stars) become more discriminatory. So, I lowered some of those books that I thought were amazing (deserving of 5 stars) before like "The Little Prince" by St-Exupery, just to give you an example.

But this one? I could not make myself lower the rating. It is sooo good that it deserves to stay with that rating forever! :)

Kalliope Yes, I also sometimes adjust my rating to books I have read in the past. This one I rose to the 5 stars. I actually read it in Manila, years ago, during a Typhoon afternoon when there was little else one could do but stay at home and read. Sipping chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

message 24: by Srinivas (new) - added it

Srinivas thanks u for introducing two good books to me today

message 25: by K.D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

K.D. Absolutely Kalliope, did you work here in Manila?

Srinivas: you're welcome.

Kalliope K.D. wrote: "Kalliope, did you work here in Manila?

Yes, I did. Makati.

message 27: by K.D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

K.D. Absolutely Wow. Did you like it?

Martha Spoiler Alert!

message 29: by K.D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

K.D. Absolutely Martha wrote: "Spoiler Alert!"

Martha, I tagged it. Thanks! :)

message 30: by Kelly (new)

Kelly It's sounds a little kafkaesque. Intrguiging nonetheless.

message 31: by K.D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

K.D. Absolutely Kelly wrote: "It's sounds a little kafkaesque. Intrguiging nonetheless."

It is not as strange as Kafka's but still awesome.

message 32: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg Z KD, yes, an astonishing work about healing from psychological wounds. Truly jaw-dropping.

message 33: by Marc (new) - added it

Marc Why do you have a shelf called "1001 books to read before you die" and keep it private? It's unfair to curious people like me (:

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