I read this beautiful book as I was looking for more Hungarian treasures – missing the likes of Szabo and Szerb. Unfortunately, I’ve read the two books of Szabo translated into English  (and not knowing Hungarian, the others are off limits.) Got a Szerb: the Pendragon Legend  waiting for me now too.

Embers by Sandor Marai was a lovely gem. It is a languid read, being more about an elderly General, Henrik reflecting on how he has spent the latter part of his life separated from his best friend, Konrad. It is forty years since some event drove them apart and now he is coming to see him.

It is through a long drawn out conversation, which is definitely more of a monologue (on Henrik’s part) that we come to see what happened to cause their estrangement.

It is a peculiar style for a whole novel, but I would say its strength lies in the time, settings and sentiments that are conjured through the conversation.

In the castle Henrik has lived in his whole life is described as: “The castle was a closed world, like a great granite mausoleum full of the moldering bones of generations of men and women from earlier times, in their shrouds of slowly disintegrating gray silk or black cloth. it enclosed silence itself as if it were a prisoner persecuted for his beliefs, wasting away numbly, unshaven and in rags on a pile of musty rotting straw in a dungeon. It also enclosed memories as if they were the dead, memories that lurked in damp corners the way mushrooms, bats, rats, and beetles lurk in the mildewed cellars of old houses…”

“The castle was a closed world, like a great granite mausoleum full of the moldering bones of generations of men and women from earlier times, in their shrouds of slowly disintegrating gray silk or black cloth. It enclosed silence itself as if it were a prisoner persecuted for his beliefs, wasting away numbly, unshaven and in rags on a pile of musty rotting straw in a dungeon. It also enclosed memories as if they were the dead, memories that lurked in damp corners the way mushrooms, bats, rats, and beetles lurk in the mildewed cellars of old houses.”

Everything Marai describes is painted with poignancy and vividness. I loved the way Konrad spoke about the tropics and how the wet seeps into everything or the way Chopin’s music seems to tear apart the world as Henrik listens to his mother and friend playing the piano.

A stunning read.

Bran Castle in the Carpathian Mountains

(Image from http://www.yoshay.com/when-literature-meets-history/)