Embers is a 1942 novel by Sandor Marai. A beautiful, lyrical, flowing novel of the lives of two friends. I loved this one.
from the back of the book:
In this magnificent rediscovered masterpiece of world literature, the Hungarian writer Sandor Marai conjures the mournful glamour of the decaying Austro-Hungarian Empire and the distilled wisdom of its last heirs.favorite quotes:
In a secluded woodland castle an old General prepares to receive a rare visitor, a man who was once his closest friend but whom 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.
No, the secret is that there's no reward and we have to endure our characters and our natures as best we can, because no amount of experience or insight is going to rectify our deficiencies, our self-regard, or our cupidity. We have to learn that our desires do not find any real echo in the world. We have to accept that the people we love do not love us, or not in the way we hope. We have to accept betrayal and disloyalty, and, hardest of all, that someone is finer than we are in character or intelligence.
Do you also believe that what gives our lives their meaning is the passion that suddenly invades us heart, soul, and body, and burns in us forever, no matter what else happens in our lives? And that if we have experienced this much, then perhaps we haven’t lived in vain? Is passion so deep and terrible and magnificent and inhuman? Is it indeed about desiring any one person, or is it about desiring desire itself? That is the question. Or perhaps, is it indeed about desiring a particular person, a single, mysterious other, once and for always, no matter whether that person is good or bad, and the intensity of our feelings bears no relation to that individual’s qualities or behavior?
I am thinking that people find truth and collect experiences in vain, for they cannot change their fundamental natures. And perhaps the only thing in life one can do is to take the givens of one’s fundamental nature and tailor them to reality as cleverly and carefully as one can. That is the most we can accomplish.
The Guardian describes it:
Published in 1942, Embers is a product of Márai's most fertile period, the second world war, when he emigrated into himself as Hungary was destroyed by the Germans and Soviets. It has been a bestseller in Europe and the US, and it's easy to see why: there's a smidgen of Agatha Christie, a soupçon of Mills and Boon, topped off with graceful prose and a hint of Beckett avant la lettre.The New York Times calls it lustrous. Publishers Weekly concludes, "Capturing the glamour of the fin de siècle era, as well as its bitter aftermath, Márai eloquently explores the tight and twisted bonds of friendship." Kirkus Reviews closes by calling it "A small, beautifully fashioned masterpiece."
There is a Reading Group Guide here.