Sandor Marai, Embers (1942)

Sandor Marai, Embers (1942), 213p.

Marai’s novel Embers is for the most part a monologue on friendship with some reminiscences of Plato’s Symposium. The beginning of the novel merely functioning as an introduction, creating the environmental setting and the rigid force of the two men’s friendship. But the friendship is experienced by Henrik mostly not as a reciprocal form but as a matter of one’s heart. Personally, I am very affected by this light on friendship, as the very people that endured penetrating my heart to form the inner circle of friends that I knew in my life – and these I can probably count on the fingers and tows of my hands and feet – will hold their sanctuary there for as long as I live. Some I have not seen for almost ten years, some I have hardly spoken in the last five years, and certainly some have failed to receive warm words of friendship from me for a long time. But just like the forty one years that Konrad and Henrik were separated from one another, so they will continue to be my dearest friends enclosed in my heart. This, is a matter not only of friendship, but of pride – self-respect – and human dignity. And such, it is in Marai’s Embers.

The story line of Embers in consequence is simple and straightforward. There are not multiple layers, not multiple separate story lines that get interwoven as they develop, only to reveal an unravelling sense in the last chapter, no murder the first chapter to be solved in the last fifty pages, and there’s only a handfull of characters, half of them are dead already. But what makes Marai such a pleasant author is the ability to enlighten the trivialities of the plot by existential reflections, by philosophical conclusions that carry the weight and body of real experience and such that the petty events of life gain a compelling intellectual conclusion.

Is it the desire that matters or the very object of our desire that gives our life meaning? Is it the truth that forms the true knowledge of our heart or are we guided by the inner delusions themselves? I will give no answer, and that is as life leaves us on our own.

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