8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Admirable prose, but perhaps too one-dimensionable
Whilst I am always sceptical of a book that has received so much publicity, I bought it on the strength of its reviews. I was not disappointed and found it a compelling read. Its only weakness is perhaps in its translation. While it is clearly a book with its main strength in its literary imagery, the two words 'as if' crop up so many times as to be irritating.
Published on 20 Mar 2002
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars why did Konrad return?
Beautifully written, atmospheric, especially at the beginning but disappointing ultimately. I've read quite a few reviews and agree with criticisms, such as, why was his relationship with Nini not developed further? I found her a fascinating character and expected to hear more about her? Why were Konrad's and Krisztina's characters not developed more fully? The general...
Published on 9 Nov 2007 by belle
Most Helpful First | Newest First
5.0 out of 5 stars Maybe a Masterpiece,
This is a complex, gripping, masterfully told story. The setting of an old forgotten castle in the Carpathian Mountains sets the gothic ambience of the story and adds to the dark and mysterious narrative of love, passion, betrayal, friendship and infidelity that brilliantly unfolds.
To clarify some of the negative criticism of the book from reviewers:
- All we get from this book is a raving monologue from the General - Well this is not completely true. The General does take up most of the dialogue in this book and at certain points it could be called a monologue. However this is to be expected for it is the General that has had the wrong done to him and not Konrad. Also it is not the General that has come to Konrad's place but the other way around. It is the Generals territory and it is the location of the wrong committed to General 41 years ago. Therefore the General deserves to dominate the dialogue. Also the General, even though he has been tortuously contemplating the betraying episode for decades, still does not know all of the facts. Not everything is definite for him, which can be seen right after he asked Konrad the first of the two questions. Even after all these years of reflection, the General thinks that his question is not the right question and believes he made a mistake asking it the way he did. The General has been haunted with what happened and is trying to separate the facts from his imagination. However with Konrads return it is finally the chance for the General to get at the truth.
- The general has spent a lifetime for this meeting and there is a lot of talk about him planning his revenge but no revenge ever happens - This is not true. The revenge is for Konrad to face the truth; for the General to call him to account. And this is what happens. The General might be a bit mad. You must be a bit mad if you contemplate such an incident so deeply for 41 years. The Generals spiel on twins made me think the guy had completely lost the plot. However in the end it is the general that has made his peace, signified by hanging Krisztina's picture back up on the wall. Konrad had to face the truth of what he did and know that the General figured most of it out without his help. Konrad leaves knowing that he betrayed his best friend, his best friend knows fully about it, and has to live with that guilt for the rest of his life. Also it might be said that he betrayed Krisztina also. He now knows the awful way she died and he will have to live with this too.
- Why did Konrad come back? This is never explained - This is also not true. Konrad came back because of guilt. Konrad possessed all the information about the affair; however what he didn't possess is how much the General, his once best friend, actually knew. I believe he came back to confess all before he died. Of course he didn't have to. The general figured most of it out himself.
- Many Questions are raised in this book but very little is answered in the end - I disagree. Many of the results of this book have been achieved by what has not been said and what has actually been left out. Most lines are telling far more then what is literally said. This is especially true with Konard's silences, which say for more then his actual dialogue. Just like all great literature, apparently minor or unimportant scenes and phrases usually have additional significance and resonance which you can really only hope to understand when you go back and reread the book. But for me, most of the questions were answered and clear in my first reading, and this is also true for the general, who is finally able to make peace at the end of the novel.
I'm not sure if this is a masterpiece. It is a complex work and I would really have to reread it to see if any flaws exist and look more into the negative comments some reviewers gave. But whatever the flaws or whether it is or not a masterpiece, this novel is definitely powerful, gripping, and memorizing and definitely deserves five stars.
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful but leaves you wondering. . .,
To review EMBERS is actually quite difficult - in one way I loved the book but in another, there were elements of it which were unsatisfying.
EMBERS is ultimately a book about friendship. The story centres around the friendship of two men - how it began in childhood, and then how it seemingly fizzled out resulting in one of them disappearing for 41 years until they are finally reunited over a last meal.
The difficulty for me is that, in many ways, not a lot happens - it takes a while for Marai to really begin to develop the story - and then when you do get to the end, you somewhat feel as though you have turned into the General yourself, as why Konrad returns is never really explained. And because the book is written mainly from the perspetive of the General, with very little input from Konrad, you never really feel as though he was able to explain what happened between them all those years ago.
However, despite these misgivings, I felt that 3 stars would have been too low as a rating. Marai's writing is beautiful. As the General spins his story, there are truly some profound moments exploring the nature of friendship and in explaining the significance of the yellow velvet diary of his wife. Reading theses excerpts, you do feel as though Marai truly knows what it is to be touched by love, passion and betrayal.
Although I would recommend this novel to people who enjoy reading about the passions of the heart, I would warn you that this is not a book where all of the answers will be given. If you like everything to be neatly tied up at the end, this may not satisfy you.
4.0 out of 5 stars Oh, for the good old days of Austro-Hungary,
It is always interesting when a book from the past - Embers was written in 1942 - gets rediscovered or translated for the first time. A similar thing happened recently with the excellent Suite Française. This is a very different kind of book, though, a nostalgic evocation of the colourful, pluralistic days (for some) of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The story is simple: an aging General sits in his castle in the Carpathian Mountains awaiting his inseparable boyhood friend who he had not seen for forty-one years. However, he had not seen him because his friend had fled after a devastating act of betrayal which had left their lives shattered. Everything is arranged to reproduce the exact conditions, even the meals, of their final meeting before the incident. A profound meditation on the nature of friendship and personal loyalty, much of the novel revolves around a moving monologue by the General to his almost silent friend recounting their lives together and the reality of their duty to each other. Of course, a woman is involved. The evening gets darker and the wine flows as freely as the words. Strongly elegiac in nature Embers is a beautifully written story, rather slow in pace but short enough to overcome that, and is of considerable historical interest. It does, though, contain rather anachronistic notions of pride and duty, and the quaint view that the strongest bond between two human beings is that between two men. Plato may have believed that but I don't. And whatever betrayal someone had committed against me I could never have afforded the luxury of sitting around in my castle and moping about it for forty years. Like most people, I would have to have got a job! Strongly recommended, though.
5.0 out of 5 stars a beautiful, sad, haunting Hungarian masterpiece,
This review is from: Embers (Hardcover)
This haunting short novel, first published in Budapest in 1942 (then quietly forgotten by all until it was brought out again last year and promptly became an international best-seller) tells in simple and spare but polished prose, as clear as a Carpathian mountain stream, the interaction of two very different old men, once boyhood close friends, who meet after 41 years separation at a castle in the foothills of the Carpathians. Their night long discussion centers around the cause of their rift and 41 year separation in an event at the very brink of the new century (? how significant is this date). Perhaps inevitably, a woman is involved but the embers of the title refer to far more than the ashes of an old love story. At basis this night's talk encompasses love (of several different types), friendship, memory, duty, pride, betrayal, character, melancholy, loneliness, honor, obsession, purpose - all that give our lives meaning and structure.
There is even more to this wonderful and multilayed novel. Marai sweeps us up with his superb evocations in a few sentences of a world gone forever - his descriptions conjure up whole worlds of place and time and sense experience - whether an imperial ball, a hunt, a cafe in Vienna, a military academy, a tropical rain forest, a journey across the Hungarian plain, a small sad town in Galicia, a hunting lodge in the Carpathians, the devastation and change wrought by the first war...Breathtakingly skilled and evocative, deceptively simple, its a polished gem of a novel. On finishing it, I immediately started to re-read it. The only sadness is to learn that Sandor Marai committed suicide in San Diego in 1989, unaware of both the imminent fall of the communist tyranny that had enveloped his homeland, and of the success that his novel would enjoy.
Just one problem in this novel - how does Konrad travel from his home "near London" to the Carpathians in August 1940? Hungary, of course, was still neutral at the time, but he says he has passed through Vienna, part of the German Reich, and very much involved in the second world war (which, like all contemporary events, is never mentioned in the novel). Perhaps Marai is deliberately focussing on the past of the two men to the exclusion of all else, and anyway it somehow just does'nt seem to matter.
This incredible novel may mystify, tease and haunt you but it won't disappoint you. Highly recommended.
5.0 out of 5 stars Facts are not the whole truth,
This short novel tackles fundamental problems like truth, the real nature of man or the importance of human relations.
For Sándor Márai, `facts are only part of the truth.' `Sometimes facts are no more than pitiful consequences because guilt does not reside in our acts but in the intentions that give rise to our acts.'
However, motives are mostly hidden in the human night, `filled with the crouching forms of dreams, desires, vanities, self-interest, mad love, envy and the thirst for revenge.'
Therefore, we have to accept betrayal and disloyalty. `Why should we expect better of the world, when it teems with unconscious desires and their all-too-deliberate consequences ... young men are bayoneting the hands of young men of other nations and all laws and conventions have been voided?'
Or, there are the debilitating pressures of parents on their children; `never a journey, never a summer outing, because I must be made into the masterpiece that they failed to achieve.'
For Sándor Márai, however, there is one passion one should not lose: self-respect, `the implacable foundation of humanity'. Losing self-respect equals opening the flood of inhuman evil and unstoppable self-destruction.
The long confession of one of the protagonists of this book turns into an in depth reflection on mankind and the world we live in.
Not to be missed.
4.0 out of 5 stars Great novel by Hungary's Sandor Marai,
This is the third book I have read from Hungarian author Sandor Marai, after Eszther's Inheritance and Divorce in Buda (neither of which is translated into English, as far as I know). Embers is better than Divorce but not as good as Eszther. By this point, one can find certain common elements in Marai's books: middle-aged or elderly individuals remembering bitterly their past, long flashbacks, encounters after a very long time, long winded speeches, a pessimistic view of life. Embers tells the tale of two friends, who met when they were teenagers at the military academy of the Austro-Hungarian empire. One, named Henrik, came from a rich family; the other, named Konrad, came from a poor one. For many years, they were inseparable. Now (the action takes place in 1940) they are 75 years old, and they haven't met in 41 years, after Konrad fled after a mysterious hunt with Henrik. He went on to live on the Orient for 40 years. What cause him to flee? And did Henrik's wife, the late Krisztina, has anything to do with his decision? After receiving Konrad in his country house in the Hungarian Carpathians, the hidden truth slowly starts to emerge. A great book, though perhaps not a masterpiece (Marai's writing style can be a bit too verbose and heavy going at times).
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to love it,
I had no idea what to expect when I picked this book up from a charity shop, but I will be honest - I was drawn to the cover, brilliant!
Anyway, cover aside, the book is very slow to start, maybe too slow for me, the writing is lovely, and it does attempt to draw you in, but more than once I nearly gave up and put the book down, but I really wanted to know what happened between Henrik and Konrad.
Half way through I was still confused, was this just a "love lost" and "betrayal" tale? Once the conversation between Henrik and Konrad was going, it was impossible to put down.
I followed the unfolding story line with interest right to the end, but found the whole thing decidedly unsatisfying. Yes the book is beautifully written - even in the translation, yes it has all the qualities of an old "masterpiece," but it didn't grip me, it didn't excite me and I didn't get a feel for the characters or the setting.
Just not for me.
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, but...,
As another reviewer said, this book is a difficult one to review, not least because it is a very different kind of novel. Thoughtful, deep, and very beautfully written, it is nonetheless hardly a gripping read. And yet as the two old men sit together 41 years after the events they are discussing, the past is unfolded so gently and the story told so skilfully that it's impossible not to sympathise with the very human emotions and actions which are at the heart of the novel. I hesitated over the number of stars, as for me, a 4-star novel is usually the kind I would recommend to anyone. This is not the case with this book, as it would almost certainly not be to everyone's taste, but writing of this calibre deserves that extra star.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful and intelligent,
Fantastically translated and beautifully written the prose flows fluidly throughout. Based around an elderly gentlemans recollections of a single incident in earlier adulthood the real subject matter of the novel is the authors opinions and musings on relationships, love, and the meaning of life itself. Wise and moving it will stay in your mind forever after reading it. Highly recommended.
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Savour every word!,
I've just finished reading this wonderful book! Written in deceptively simple prose, Embers tells the story of a forty year old love affair which resulted in the near murder of one of the protagonists and the self-isolation of his wife. Its about the loss of a close friend through betrayal and the realisation that there are no easy answers to the foibles of human relationships. The translation is beautiful- perfect to read aloud particularly the final explanatory chapters- just to hear how the words fit together. Don't rush this book. Savour the language...
Most Helpful First | Newest First
Embers by Sandor Marai (Hardcover - 3 Nov 2001)
Used & New from: £0.01