Reads like both a Jane Austen- esque classic and a modern mystery. A lovely jewel of a book.
A simple run-through of the plot: A retired general from the army, Henrik, awaits an old friend he hasn’t seen in 41 years. They have dinner and Henrik talks all evening about their relationship. As dawn approaches, Henrik asks his friend Konrad two questions (OK, he cheats and asks several more) which Konrad declines to answer. Konrad leaves.
The key, though, isn’t the plot (which barely exists) but how it is revealed. There are many topics explored in this brief book. Márai spends plenty of time allowing Henrik to muse about friendship. After all, Henrik has thought about their friendship during his forty-one years of semi-solitude and delivers a brilliant (if somewhat artificial feeling) monologue on the topic. More importantly though is how friendship and other matters of loyalty and duty interact with desire and passion.
The dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire lies as a backdrop for a story of friends and loves, representing more than just a country’s end. There’s much more discussed in these pages, such as the relationships between facts and truth, action and reflection, logic and emotion, and belonging and mastering. Márai unveils the story much like a musical piece, motifs reappearing every now and then, alternating fast and slow passages, etc. And yet…I walk away from the book not fully satisfied. Don’t get me wrong—it’s just that some things feel too staged. At times I thought this would make a better play, and evidently, judging from the reviews of just such an adaption, theater critics thought it worked better as a novel. But there are other moments when the symbolism or the monologue seems too forced, such as when Henrik doesn’t allow Konrad to answer his first question, rattling on for several more pages. Even with some reservations I still recommend the book and I look forward to reading more from Márai.
A small jewel of a book, translated from the original novel published in 1942 in Budapest. The nature of the eternal triangle is examined through a philosophical lens. Two elderly gentlemen, finally meeting again after forty-one years, speak through an evening until dawn – of their friendship, their trust, their love, and finally, the ultimate betrayal that has haunted their lives. The ‘embers’ will remain forever silent, but the timeless urgency of love still speaks to us all.
A night-long duel of words and silence between two former friends over a long-dead woman.
First published in Hungary in 1942, it was forgotten until 1989 when it was rediscovered, republished and translated in several languages. It became a bestseller not only in its home country but worldwide as well.
This is a fascinating study of friendship. Not for all - but if you like moody fairy tales, you'll love it!
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