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Embers    by Sandor Marai order for
by Sandor Marai
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2002 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

I was ambling through a bookstore waiting for a friend to find a tome on model trains when I came across a captivating book cover - graced by an 1873 painting by Alexandre Cabanel, which resides in the glorious Musee d'Orsay in Paris. The eyes in the painting seem to beckon one to pick up the novel. Originally published in Budapest, Hungary in 1942 and resurrected for another generation to enjoy, Embers is a story of obsession, of a friendship that never truly existed, of a man who waited forty-two years for answers to two questions that are never really answered. What lovely, lyrical prose. The author writes beautifully and with insight into the human condition.

Konrad and Henrik meet at age twelve and become fast friends, living their lives as one. Reaching maturity, the young men enter the military service together. After Henrik's marriage to Krisztina, they become a threesome. Abruptly, Konrad leaves Hungary for the tropics and Henrik starts his forty-two years of waiting for answers. We are invited into his Austro Hungarian castle, where we spend time with Henrik and try to comprehend how a man could wait so long in solitude, in a self-imposed prison without bars. I didn't care if anything happened. I just wanted the book to continue to delve into Henrik's mind and let us see his thoughts in print.

This is a magnificently written book and is translated without losing any of the fragility of the prose - that must be so because I cannot believe it could be written more beautifully that it is. Plan to read Embers in leisure, so that you can enjoy the subtlety of the words, the phrasing, the nuances, and the intelligence of the protagonist as well as the content. A body of Marai's work has been rediscovered and hopefully will be translated, to give us more by this master.

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