Every so often,I stumble upon a book that seems to have been “fated” to fall into my hands. I read it, relish it, put it away, and forget about it until some inexplicable hand guides me to its place on the shelf.
Yesterday was 9/11/13, not only the anniversary of the tragic attack on U.S. soil but also a day where Marai’s protagaonist states that “summer ignited a last blaze like an arsonist setting the fields on fire in senseless fury before making his escape.”
So it was rather eerie, really, that something moved me to go to the shelves, grab EMBERS by the Hungarian author Sandor Marai , and reread it. It was not a conscious act.
EMBERS was originally published in Budapest in 1942 and translated into English in 2001.
The story is about a resentment between two men that has festered for forty –one years, an eternity when given the average lifespan of a man. Yet it is this premise -- that “every exercise of power incorporates a faint, almost imperceptible element of contempt for those over whom the power is exercised” that provides the pulse for Marai’s plot. And I think it is this same truth that underscores the hate that incites every act or terror . . . every war . . . every human unkindness.
Henrik and Konrad were like twins – except for the fact that one was born into wealth while the other was born into poverty. Although this did not bother Henrik, the “lucky” one, it festered inside Konrad for years. He was never quite good enough in his own eyes. In an ironic twist of fate, Konrad strips Henrik of his love, his sanity, his “joie de vivre.” What follows is a meeting 4 decades later where Henrik interrogates Konrad in an attempt to get to the “truth.”
Marai forces us to study ourselves: “There’s too much tension, too much animosity, too much craving for revenge in us all. We look inside ourselves and what do we find? An animosity that time damped down for a while but now is bursting out again. So why should we expect anything else of our fellow men?”
Thought-provoking . . . twisted . . . timely. It reminds me of John Knowles (A Separate Peace) meets Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness) meets Dostoyesky (Crime and Punishment). I both love it and hate it; I read and reread it; I am addicted to his words.