Embers

Embers

4.4 22
by Sandor Marai
     
 

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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

Overview

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

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“As masterly and lovely a novel as one could ask for. . . . Embers is perfect.” —The Washington Post Book World

“A lustrous novel. . . . [with] its powerful undercurrent of suspense and its elegantly wrought armature of moral and metaphysical argument. . . . Triumphant.” —The New York Times Book Review

“The reader will . . . be . . . very quietly nailed to the spot . . . mesmerizing. . . . In every way . . . satisfying.” —Los Angeles Times

“Tantalizing. . . .Brilliant. . . . [Marai’s] words resonate.” —The Wall Street Journal

Washington Post Book World
Masterly and lovely, evoking the memory of unspoken passions.
Publishers Weekly
Even for a man on "the very best terms with the very best people," the Soviet Union on the eve of glasnost is a precarious place. So it goes for bitterly compelling antihero Anatoly Pavlovich Sukhanov, richly crafted in this debut novel by Russian migr Grushin. After starting out as an avant-garde artist, Sukhanov marries the daughter of an iconic Soviet painter, becomes a critic and quickly rises to editor-in-chief of Art of the World, an influential journal devoted to disparaging the Western art that once inspired him. An enviable Moscow apartment, a dacha and a personal driver follow, but 12 years later, Sukhanov can no longer write, his wife and son know him for the sellout he is, and Gorbachev's ascension may mean the end of his sinecure. When a man claiming to be his long-lost cousin comes to visit, Sukhanov finds himself sleeping on his couch, where, as dreams of his former life haunt him, his past may catch up with him for real. Grushin, who has served as former President Carter's personal interpreter and as an editor at Harvard's Dumbarton Oaks Research Library, offers a powerful and richly detailed examination of late Soviet society's harsh confinements-even for those who have all the right connections. (Jan. 5) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
There are two extraordinary things about this book: it exudes the wisdom of maturity in a first novel, and the young, Russian-born author writes beautifully-in English, her second language! On one level, Grushin recounts the comfortable life of fiftysomething art critic and former artist Anatoly Sukhanov, who enjoys all the perks of a pre-Gorbachev existence, until the arrival of a mysterious cousin at his family's capacious Moscow apartment. As his secure life begins to fray and then unravel, Sukhanov, who had the potential of brilliance as a young artist but eventually joined the Soviet establishment, is forced to confront the loss of his beloved wife, his two children, his editorship at the country's leading art magazine, in a word, his identity. Though an absorbing chronicle of life at the end of the Soviet era, this is really much more-a meditation on society, art, truth, and life. This time the publisher has it right: "that rare debut that requires no hype." Simply stunning. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Edward Cone, New York Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Russian artist's compromise with Soviet bureaucracy provokes a surreal midlife crisis in this first novel by Russian-born Grushin. Anatoly Sukhanov, editor-in-chief of an official Soviet art magazine, becomes increasingly disoriented following a birthday celebration honoring his father-in-law Malinin, an "approved" artist who-in the fiery words of Sukhanov's radicalized younger self-had "sold his soul to the devil" for wealth, fame and freedom from political oppression. Now, Sukhanov's beautiful wife Nina sorrowfully accuses him of having done the same-as they grow ever further estranged. Other disapproving perspectives on his failures as both art's representative and paterfamilias are offered by teenaged daughter Ksenya, whose liberal beliefs mock his, and adult son Vasily, a suave careerist who's a far more skilled "operator" than Sukhanov himself. Initially nondescript or neutral, increasingly threatening encounters and incidents begin to unhinge Sukhanov, stimulating fragmentary guilty memories of his childhood and youth. A meeting with a former friend and fellow artist who didn't "compromise" (and hasn't prospered); the unexpected visit of an apologetic cousin whom Sukhanov can't remember having met; a contretemps at his office when Sukhanov's article on Salvador Dal' is "bumped" by a freelance essay on maverick Russian painter Marc Chagall-all trigger both reminiscences and hallucinations that "bring . . . him closer and closer to the forbidden edge of a personal darkness he had not leaned over in decades." Grushin has imagined both Sukhanov's carefully managed life and his richly troubling personal history with a detailed intensity that fruitfully echoes Solzhenitsyn's bestbooks, Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" and John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra. Brilliant work from a newcomer who's already an estimable American writer. Agent: Warren J. Frazier/John Hawkins & Associates

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375707421
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/13/2002
Series:
Vintage International
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
205,197
Product dimensions:
5.11(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.56(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

In the morning, the old general spent a considerable time in the wine cellars with his winegrower inspecting two casks of wine that had begun to ferment. He had gone there at first light, and it was past eleven o'clock before he had finished drawing off the wine and returned home. Between the columns of the veranda, which exuded a musty smell from its damp flagstones, his gamekeeper was standing waiting for him, holding a letter.

"What do you want?"the General demanded brusquely, pushing back his broad-brimmed straw hat to reveal a flushed face. For years now, he had neither opened nor read a single letter. The mail went to the estate manager's office, to be sorted and dealt with by one of the stewards.

"It was brought by a messenger,"said the gamekeeper, standing stiffly at attention.

The General recognized the handwriting. Taking the letter and putting it in his pocket, he stepped into the cool of the entrance hall and, without uttering a word, handed the gamekeeper both his stick and his hat. He removed a pair of spectacles from his cigar case, went over to the window where light insinuated itself through the slats of the blinds, and began to read.

"Wait,"he said over his shoulder to the gamekeeper, who was about to leave the room to dispose of cane and hat.

He crumpled the letter into his pocket. "Tell Kalman to harness up at six o'clock. The Landau, because there's rain in the air. And he is to wear full-dress livery. You too,"he said with unexpected force, as if suddenly angered. "Everything must shine. The carriage and harness are to be cleaned immediately. Then put on your livery, and seat yourself next to Kalman on the coachbox. Understood?"

"Yes, Excellence,"said the gamekeeper, looking his master directly in the eye. "At six o'clock.""At half past six you will leave,"said the General, and then appeared to be making some calculation, for his lips moved silently. "You will go to the White Eagle. All you are to say is that I have sent you, and the carriage for the Captain is waiting. Repeat."

The gamekeeper repeated the words. Then the General raised his hand, as if he had just thought of something else, and he looked up at the ceiling but didn't say anything and went upstairs to the second floor. The gamekeeper, still frozen to attention, watched him, unblinking, and waited until the thickset, broad-shouldered figure disappeared around the turn of the stone balustrade.

The General went into his room, washed his hands, and stepped over to his high, narrow standing desk; arranged on its surface of unstained green felt were pens, ink, and a perfectly aligned stack of those notebooks covered in black-and-white-checked oilcloth commonly used by schoolchildren for their home- work. In the middle of the desk stood a green-shaded lamp, which the General switched on, as the room was dark. On the other side of the closed blinds, in the scorched, withered garden, summer ignited a last blaze like an arsonist setting the fields on fire in senseless fury before making his escape. The General took out the letter, carefully smoothed the paper, set his glasses on his nose and placed the sheet under the bright light to read the straight short lines of angular handwriting, his arms folded behind his back.

There was a calendar hanging on the wall. Its fist-sized numbers showed August 14. The General looked up at the ceiling and counted: August 14. July 2. He was calculating how much time had elapsed between that long-ago day and today. "Forty-one years,"he said finally, half aloud. Recently he had been talking to himself even when he was alone in the room. "Forty years,"he then said, confused, and blushed like a school- boy who's stumbled in the middle of a lesson, tilted his head back and closed his watering eyes. His neck reddened and bulged over the maize-yellow collar of his jacket. "July 2, 1899, was the day of the hunt,"he murmured, then fell silent. Propping his elbows on the desk like a student at his studies, he went back to staring anxiously at the letter with its brief handwritten message. "Forty-one,"he said again, hoarsely. "And forty-three days. Yes, exactly."

He seemed calmer now, and began to walk up and down. The room had a vaulted ceiling, supported by a central column. It had once been two rooms, a bedroom, and a dressing room.

Many years ago—he thought only in decades, anything more exact upset him, as if he might be reminded of things he would rather forget—he had had the wall between the two rooms torn down. Only the column holding up the central vault remained. The castle had been built two hundred years earlier by an army supplier who sold oats to the Austrian cavalry and in course of time was promoted to the nobility. The General had been born here in this room.

In those days the room farthest back, the dark one that looked onto the garden and estate offices, had been his mother's bedroom, while the lighter, airier room had been the dressing room.

For decades now, since he had moved into this wing of the building, and torn down the dividing wall, this large, shadowy chamber had replaced the two rooms. Seventeen paces from the door to the bed. Eighteen paces from the wall on the garden side to the balcony. Both distances counted off exactly.

He lived here as an invalid lives within the space he has learned to inhabit. As if the room had been tailored to his body. Years passed without him setting foot in the other wing of the castle, in which salon after salon opened one into the next, first green, then blue, then red, all hung with gold chandeliers.

The windows in the south wing gave onto the park with its chestnut trees that stood in a semicircle in front of protruding balustrades held up by fat stone angels, and bowed down over the balconies in spring in all their dark-green magnificence, lit with pink flowering candles. When he went out, it was to the cellars or into the forest or—every morning, rain or shine, even in winter—to the trout pond. And when he came back, he went through the entrance hall and up to his bedroom, and it was here that he ate all his meals.

"So he's come back,"he said aloud, standing in the middle of the room. "Forty-one years and forty-three days later."

These words seemed suddenly to exhaust him, as if he had only just understood the enormousness of forty-one years and forty-three days. He swayed, then sat down in the leather armchair with its worn back. On the little table within reach of his hand was a little silver bell, which he rang.

"Tell Nini to come up here,"he said to the servant. And then, politely, "If she'd be so kind."

Meet the Author

Sándor Márai was born in Kassa, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1900, and died in San Diego in 1989. He rose to fame as one of the leading literary novelists in Hungary in the 1930s. Profoundly antifascist, he survived World War II, but persecution by the Communists drove him from the country in 1948, first to Italy, then to the United States. He is the author of a body of work now being rediscovered and which Knopf is translating into English.

A NOTE ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Carol Brown Janeway's translations include Binjamin Wilkomirski's Fragments, Marie de Hennezel's Intimate Death, Bernhard Schlink's The Reader, Jan Philipp Reemtsma's In the Cellar, Hans-Ulrich Treichel's Lost, Zvi Kolitz's Yosl Rakover Talks to God, and Benjamin Lebert's Crazy.

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Embers 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Embers is a feast for the eyes and brain. Why can't more writers write like this? I was swept into the time and culture. I appreciated the writing, the plot; Embers is many cuts above a typical good book. For those who think reading is one of the great joys in life, I recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Embers had me spellbound right up until the end, which disappointed me. If only Marai had given his ending some small, mind-blowing twist, this book would have been more worth reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the story of a long standing,intimate friendship interrupted by a pathological action and an attempt to deal with it 41 years later. Besides the literary values cited by others, the story evokes many psychiatric issues... While the author describes in details the aggressive acts agains one of the friends(Henrik) and his reactions, nothing is said about the following:the victim anguish and overwhelming feelings of sadness; the horror of his mental pain; the devastating feelings of loneliness due to the physical and emotional loss of the friend and his wife; the injury to his self esteem and the subsequent feelings that no one cares... There is a situation suggestive of a pathological re-enacting of the Oedipal Complex by the friend(Konrad) who disappears(I assume out of guilt/shame) for many years and returns at age 75 to a reunion where he says very little... The author end the story by making us think the common and erroneous belief that detective work and/or being able to have a verbal discharge or confrontation will make every thing well again. I adhere to the psychotherapy teachings that most cases of emotional trauma, a cure may be brought about, usually with the aid of medications, by a process in which the victim experince that his feelingswere underestood by his therapist and eventually identifies with him in coping with life traumas in spite of the emotional scars... Also of interest is to notice that the author knew that emotional damage persist to age 75, and by his suicidal death at age 89 confirms that emotional pain, without treatment, is a life long suffering.
nmaybe More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book in a thrift store because i liked the cover, I'm so glad I did - .Ii found this book to be very profound, and interesting. I have read it twice, which is also very unusual for me.
JurisRex More than 1 year ago
"Embers", by Sandor Marai, is one of the best kept secrets of the World's literature. I was lucky enough to have stumbled across it in a used book store. Other literature has palled in comparison since that fateful day. Written by a master of the craft, Hungarian, Sandor Marai, this novel evokes all the passion and prose that one usually finds in the great masters, such as Turgenev, Dickens, and Tolstoy et al. Longtime friends, turned enemies, are brought to a bar of judgment moment on a stormy Hungarian night in an old Hungarian estate. The penitent, prodigal friend has returned to the estate of his victim and one time friend. During the long night, truths are revealed, and surprises manifested. What results is an intimate introspection of the human soul, its strength and ultimate fragility. This is the finest short novel/novella ever written.
RobertTyler More than 1 year ago
So effective is Márai's evocative prose that, by melding it with his surpassing genius for expressing the ineffable nature of friendship, the author gilds the pages of this flawless narrative with a splendorous and intimate luster
Guest More than 1 year ago
Describes an era lacking in time pressure. The reader is drawn by his own curiosity to continue to follow the scattered bread crumbs of hints and foreshadowing that lead to the final dramatic meeting of the two living and one remembered protagonists. The reader is bombarded by emotional stimulii throughout. The emotional tensions between: wealth and poverty; extroversion and introversion; military science and the arts; love and hate; friendship and betrayal; and perhaps, as Dr. Telot has suggested above, a reawakening of the oedipal complex. It is natural to wonder if the book in some way foreshadows the author's tragic suicide. An unusual, masterfully written, compelling story that can be re-read and enjoyed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What else is there to say other than it's a great novel? A very much compacted masterpiece that addresses many questions that we still ask ourselves today. The narrative is not boring at all. I truly enjoyed reading what the General had to say about friendship, loyalty, comradery, love, passion, duty, betrayal, and essentially the qualities in men and their human relationships with others. It's even more amazing how the General answers his own questions (which shows you how much the author has pondered over these issues himself), and after 41 years he really has pretty much figured out the answers to his own questions. The fact that he asks 2 very unexpected questions at the end, even though he knows the answers, makes me feel sad thinking that the General spent 41 years feeling the way he did. Despite all those hateful feelings amongst all the characters, they learned to forgive themselves and each other. Simply... great! I highly recommend it.
Reader2FL More than 1 year ago
I read this book with an online book club and I really enjoyed it. We moved through the book very quickly, but it a small, gem of a book. A Good Read!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting story against a background of values of an earlier time. However, I'm not a fan of talking head novels.
Hluot-Hariman More than 1 year ago
Unique. Gives lot's of brain food!
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Charges at fang get out of our cave
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is back!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
(SPARK HAD HER KITS)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A small, fuzzy kit rolled in. He was small with icy blue eyes. "Mama?" He asked Honeystar.