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The Rebels (Vintage International) [Paperback]

Sandor Marai , George Szirtes
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

11 Mar 2008 Vintage International
An early novel from the great rediscovered Hungarian writer Sándor Márai, The Rebels is a haunting story of a group of alienated boys on the cusp of adult life—and possibly death—during World War I.

It is the summer of 1918, and four boys approaching graduation are living in a ghost town bereft of fathers, uncles, and older brothers, who are off fighting at the front. The boys know they will very soon be sent to join their elders, and in their final weeks of freedom they begin acting out their frustrations and fears in a series of subversive games and petty thefts. But when they attract the attention of a stranger in town—an actor with a traveling theater company—their games, and their lives, begin to move in a direction they could not have predicted and cannot control, and one that reveals them to be strangers to one another. Resisting and defying adulthood, they find themselves still subject to its baffling power even in their attempted rebellion.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 278 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books USA; Reprint edition (11 Mar 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375707417
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375707414
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 14 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,585,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'(Marai) paints a vivid portrait of a generation of young men morally marooned...' -- Sunday Herald

'He observes a story, with little dialogue, and yet it expresses the core of human existence'
-- Yorkshire Gazette and Herald

'Historically fascinating'
-- Big Issue

'Marai's delicate brilliance lies in his characters, the economy and skill with which he conjures each to life.' -- Literary Review

'Marai's strengths of description retain their hallucinatory power.' -- Metro

'Powerfully emotive.' -- The First Post

'The Rebels wonderfully evokes the loss of innocence and childhood at the time of its passing.' -- Daily Mail

'The novel has a subtle poignancy that is at once spellbinding and bitterly affecting'
-- Daily Telegraph

'The psychology is sharp and the plot gripping'
-- The Independent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'A powerful tale of innocence lost, [Márai] writes with a prescience that seems almost otherworldly.'

'A darkly comic coming-of-age story.' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A last rebellion against adults and adulthood 14 Nov 2008
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It is the early summer of 1918 near the end of the First World War. A pretty town in the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is far away from the battle front, but the war, now obviously being lost, seeps into it. Mutilated soldiers return home. And boys who have just finished school are expecting to be called up and sent to fight. Four of them have formed a close-knit gang, who spend their last weeks desperately clinging to what is left of their adolescence and in rebellion against the adult world. They create for themselves a `reality' which is separate from the `reality' of the outside world - sometimes they do it by competing with each other in telling lies about themselves, sometimes in telling truths. One form the rebellion takes is stealing money from their families on a large scale - not because they particularly want the articles they buy with it, but more as a gesture of defiance. Half in and half out of this little group are a couple of adults. One is the elder brother of one of the four who has returned from the war as a one-armed invalid. The other is an actor who, with professional skill, finds just the right tone with the young people, which to some extent disarms their suspicions of him as an adult.

The emotions of the four and the relationships between them are described with subtlety and elegance, with a powerful and unexpected twist at the end. We see the adults through the eyes of the boys: there are very strong visual images of them. Sometimes the description of the town's inhabitants reminded me of Dylan Thomas' Llareggub - not least in one passage when the town is bathed in moonlight. Often there are strong evocations of smell.
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By Dr R TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Sándor Márai, 1900-1989, was a Hungarian poet, journalist and diarist who, profoundly anti-Fascist and anti-Communist, went into self-imposed exile in 1948 and eventually committed suicide in California. This book was originally published in 1930 and has been translated by the Anglo-Hungarian poet, George Szirtes.

About 60 of Márai’s books await an English translation and his reputation, that declined deeply during his exile, has climbed since the overthrow of Communism in Hungary, that occurred the same year as his death.

‘The Rebels’ is the first part of the author’s six-book saga about the Garren family but can be read as a stand-alone book. It is concerned with the events over two days in a remote location in the Hungary of the Dual Monarchy. It is May 1918 and addresses the activities of four teenage classmates, Ábel, Béla, Tibor and Ernö, who have formed a gang, together with 20-year old Lajos, Béla’s brother who has lost an arm in the fighting [and who is coldly called ‘the one-armed one’ by the author]. They are under the spell of the much older actor-cum-dancer, Amadé Volpay, whom Márai makes incredibly sinister. The boys avidly absorb his experiences of life, ‘For a man to attain immortality it is necessary that he first survive.’

Bored with life and wanting to forget that, when they finish school they will be called up to join brothers and fathers on the front line [already their class had declined from 50 to 17], they set out to steal money and items from their parents, neighbours and traders, not because they need them but simply to carry out the thefts.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No Embers 15 Feb 2009
Format:Paperback
I bought this book after reading the excellent 'Embers'. However, i was left bitterly disappointed. I felt no real connection with the characters and the book doesn't really gather any pace or develop any story until well over half way through the book. Its main redeeming feature is the writin style of the author which was at the same excellent level as in other works. Perhaps the problem was i was constantly contrasting the book with Embers. In spite of this i never actually cared what happened to the characters.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Rebels without cause 13 Sep 2009
By Julaka
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The author explores 4 possibly unintended friends on the verge of manhood living at a very difficult time in the history of their country. An average human drama with not much going for it. Throughout the read I was anxious 'for something to happen'. That something never did. These are all forgettable characters in a forgettable story. 3 weeks after reading this book- I can't even remember the names of the main characters- just goes to show you.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Discontents of Youth in a Disintegrating World 4 Jun 2007
By Robert T. OKEEFFE - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In their final year of high school four boys - Abel, Tibor, Bela and Ernö - form a gang. It is May of 1918, the month of their graduation. Their nation (the Hungarian half of the Dual Monarchy) has plans for them - they will be conscripted, given only cursory training, and thrown into the battle-lines of one of the war's lethal fronts as hapless cannon fodder. They may be facing death in the near future. Another distasteful possible future presents itself to them in the person of Lajos, Tibor's older brother who participates in the gang as a senior observer and counselor; he has returned from the Isonzo battleground missing an arm. He is angry, he fears the future, he pities himself, and he conspicuously refuses to "convert" to full adult life. He is an able co-conspirator in the gang's activities, the purpose of which is to wage their own war against adult society, which they fear and despise. They hate authority in each of its incarnations, understanding that its purpose is to either intimidate them (the patriarchal fathers) or plead with them (the pathetic mothers and aunts). They sense that the adult world is withholding secrets and privileges from them but also suspect that when uncovered and experienced, these secrets and privileges will prove to be utterly banal. Parents and teachers are special objects of their wrath and disenchantment. The members of the gang steal, lie, smoke, drink and engage in elaborate hoaxes upon selected adult townsmen. They have even rented quarters in a shabby inn on the outskirts of the city as a hide-out and storage bin for their loot. Much of their stolen money is spent on fanciful objects which are never used or displayed - indeed, the wastefulness of their acquisitions is a conscious element of the gang's overarching principle, which is that each act of their war justifies itself because of the grandeur of their purpose and the unworthiness of their enemies. Yet they remain tentative and uncertain if their risky "games" are truly meaningful or merely a desperate attempt to hang on to the comforts of childhood which have already vanished.

Recently they have formed a strange alliance with an adult whose life and manners, like their "games", seem to gainsay the solid middle-class virtues which they flee and mock. This is the "strolling player" and stage-director Amadé Volpay. He is a large, perfume-scented, epicene creature who enjoys being the center of their attentions when he tells the boys tales of his adventures or when he comments dryly on their new way of life, analyzing without judging; he is not above accepting handouts and gifts from them. The actor also has an open (yet secretive in its aims) connection with the town's pawnbroker, Havas, who, obscenely fat and coarse in his habits while delicate and respectful in his language, both repels and fascinates the boys. As petty thieves they also have recourse to his services, establishing an asymmetrical bond which may prove to be one of bondage.

Within the gang forces are also not equal. With the exception noted presently, the members of the gang may not even be fond of each other in the way that more conventional friends are, but they are still determined to work and live together in their common enterprise of deceit as a form of ultimate self-honesty, signaling to themselves the authenticity of their rebellion. Abel is infatuated with Tibor, who is handsome, polite, generous and athletic; in Abel's mind he is an idealized love object, a feeling which both pleases and frightens him. Tibor is also accepted as their natural leader by Bela, the weakest and most malleable of the four, and by Ernö. It is Ernö who is the most enigmatic, and his true sentiments toward his companions remain opaque. He is a scion of the working class, the son of a cobbler. But, due to his intelligence and independence of spirit, he has been accepted by the other members of the gang (all middle-class) after a life of being patronized by their parents. His father, Mr. Zakarka, also fascinates and sometimes frightens the boys. Zakarka is a small, malformed man who speaks in prophetic Biblical idioms and tones about the coming "settling of accounts" between the haves and have-nots in Hungarian society. He is also proud of the fact that during his days as a soldier his aristocratic officers granted him the privilege of hanging three Czech officers whom they deemed treacherous; he feels that this has "cleansed" his soul, and he intimates that more cleansing of soul and society through murder is just around the corner. His relations with his son's friends and with his social superiors crystallize the class and ethnic divisions which permeated Hungarian society at the time. (On the latter point it is very likely that Marai, whose full name was Sándor Károly Henrik Grosschmied de Mára, and who originally wavered between writing in German or Hungarian, was deeply and personally aware of the unpredictable, and often unsavory, consequences of "strong ethnic claims".) Zakarka's character and mental world are reminiscent of Dostoyevsky's dark and obsessional creations.

Family life within the social circle of Abel and Tibor (whose fathers are, respectively, a physician and a career military officer, both absent at the front) is dispiriting, a natural medium for breeding contempt and discontent. The portrait of Tibor's and Lajos's mother, who feigns illness in order to establish control over her disintegrating family, is especially sharp and demoralizing. Abel's aunt is treated more sympathetically, but her horizons are as narrow as those of the colonel's wife and her situation equally futile. And the whole society of the Austro-Hungarian empire in its fourth and final year of war seems to be sinking into a terminal state of indifference and fatalism, perhaps more apparent to the adolescents than to their elders, who are still blithely willing to send their children off to the pointless war. Joseph Roth's "The Radetzky March" can be seen as an elegiac farewell to the twilight years of the Empire that arrived at "the beginning of the end" in 1914, a backward look tinged with melancholy and fond nostalgia. "The Rebels" looks at the same world four years later, just prior to its final collapse, as the harbinger of an unpromising future in which melancholy will turn into rage and nostalgia itself will become venomous.

Events move toward a crisis that will coincide with their graduation ceremonies and which may unmask them all before the adults. Each of them now longs to end the gang and hopes that the crisis, whatever shape it takes, will liberate them from their mental and emotional burdens - they all feel that "something has to break". One of the gang is a double-dealer, having his own private arrangements with the adult world and betraying their secrets to Volpay and Havas. I won't disclose the identity of the "traitor" or the nature of the group's final crisis here. Suffice it to say it is both surprising and extremely sad, and the book closes on a note which brings to mind the perfect combination of calm objectivity and emotional dismay that Chekhov evoked so well.

The theme of rebellious youth is an old one that has often been treated in literature, on the stage, and in films (of more recent efforts, the English movie "If" and the American movie "Rebel Without a Cause" come immediately to mind, especially in their depiction of the intensity of relationships among adolescent rebels). Marai's handling of the theme avoids the pitfalls of the trite and is exemplary in its sophistication. The translation by George Szirtes reads very well, and one assumes that it reflects Marai's style, which establishes the adolescent mind's inner convolutions in plain language that is used to build complex conditional sentences. The unnamed small city where it takes place seems to be Marai's hometown of Kassa (now Kosice). Marai himself graduated from gymnasium in 1918, so the temper of the times which he depicts so vividly here is based on personal experience. He has created a social and temporal portrait in which the most trivial details of the town's appearance and life are naturally saturated with meaning for its youth, while at one and the same time the place seems to be spiritually empty and devoid of intelligent purpose. This is an excellent novel that serves the reader well as an introduction to a long and accomplished literary career. It is the third of Marai's novels (along with a memoir) that have recently been published in English translations as an ongoing project of "rediscovery" of a very talented writer (noting that, although he spent much of his life outside his homeland, including his last forty years in exile, his reputation has always been high in Hungary). The Knopf edition is compact and handsome in its paper, binding and typography.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stick to the margins 13 Jan 2008
By Radcliffe Camera - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the third Marai novel translated into English, and like his previous two (Embers and Conversations at Bolzano) he has a knack for bringing to life an historical and social context (a country town in Hungary, late in the first world war). But for my tastes this novel was not as satisfying as its two translated predecessors. Yes, the subject matter is different (the difficult and dangerous transition from adolescence to adulthood), but some of the central characters lack a certain clarity and depth. The novel's power lies, however, in the skill in which the apparently peripheral characters are delineated (and here I mean the Cobbler, who seems to step into the story from a nineteenth-century Russian novel or short-story, and Tibor's mother), characterisations that are rich but also leave one wanting to know more. For me they save the novel. The last fifty pages or so are worth the wait. I look forward to the next translation.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A last rebellion against adults and adulthood 14 Nov 2008
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It is the early summer of 1918 near the end of the First World War. A pretty town in the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is far away from the battle front, but the war, now obviously being lost, seeps into it. Mutilated soldiers return home. And boys who have just finished school are expecting to be called up and sent to fight. Four of them have formed a close-knit gang, who spend their last weeks desperately clinging to what is left of their adolescence and in rebellion against the adult world. They create for themselves a `reality' which is separate from the `reality' of the outside world - sometimes they do it by competing with each other in telling lies about themselves, sometimes in telling truths. One form the rebellion takes is stealing money from their families on a large scale - not because they particularly want the articles they buy with it, but more as a gesture of defiance. Half in and half out of this little group are a couple of adults. One is the elder brother of one of the four who has returned from the war as a one-armed invalid. The other is an actor who, with professional skill, finds just the right tone with the young people, which to some extent disarms their suspicions of him as an adult.

The emotions of the four and the relationships between them are described with subtlety and elegance, with a powerful and unexpected twist at the end. We see the adults through the eyes of the boys: there are very strong visual images of them. Sometimes the description of the town's inhabitants reminded me of Dylan Thomas' Llareggub - not least in one passage when the town is bathed in moonlight. Often there are strong evocations of smell. There are occasional strange stream-of-consciousness passages, relating sometimes to the thoughts of the characters, while at other times they are authorial.

There is a long set-piece episode in an empty theatre in which the actor manipulates a series of transformations in himself, the boys and the scenery; the boys are like puppets under his influence. It makes compelling reading, though at the time the significance these pages is unclear until the powerful end of the book.

Despite the realism of the descriptions, an enigmatic air hovers over the whole book. Its construction is not as straightforward as that of Marai's later novels, `Embers' and `Conversations in Bolzano' (see my reviews), and so it makes a rather more difficult read. And again, as in the two later books, the translation by George Szirtes is admirable.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A futile rebellion against growing up 19 Dec 2009
By Yaakov Ben Shalom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It is the spring of 1918, the last year of World War I. In a Hungarian garrison town, four boys -- the equivalent of seniors in high school -- have formed a circle of friends. But their friendship is unconventional, and they call themselves a "gang." They are the sons of an aristocratic colonel, an upper-middle-class physician, a middle-class grocer, and a poor, mentally disturbed cobbler. As graduation, military conscription, and adulthood loom, they rebel against the world of the adults. They steal money and treasured possessions from their families. With the purloined money, they buy items that they don't need or can't use. They become ever more self-indulgent, self-important, and wasteful. Soon, they are joined by the elder son of the colonel, a 20-year-old, one-armed veteran of the Italian front. And the final member of the group is an itinerant actor who is much older then they are but who is oddly drawn to the boys. But their thievery and decadence eventually catch up with them and threaten their precious little world.

Though interesting, I found the novel to be somewhat disappointing. Interior monologues, constantly shifting narration perspectives, and non-sequiturs in the action do not make it easy reading. The main characters' narcissism and self-indulgence grow tiresome. And the ending is a bit unclear and unsatisfying. The Rebels is not the equal of Marai's Embers.
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars odd little book 9 Jun 2008
By Kathrin M. Matolcsy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I liked this book...you think you have the characters pegged and then suprises...reminds me of another Hungarian book...Pal Utcai Fiuk...I find the cover photo mesmerizing...wickedly impish:)
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