They met as cadets at the military academy in Vienna and were the
closest of friends for a decade, before a woman came between them. Forty-one
years on, the General lives in a castle in the Carpathian Mountains,
with only his old nurse for company, and Konrad is coming to see him for the
first time. And so the General looks back over his life and then, in a meeting
that resolves everything and nothing, delivers what is effectively a monologue,
through which we discover what really happened all those years ago.
In places Embers has certain artificiality, but Márai''s prose moves
too fluently for us to really notice. It is an almost elegiac vision of one
man''s life, looking backwards with the distance and the perspective that old
age brings: intense memories of childhood and youth, nostalgia for the vanished
world of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the worn-in tracks of repeated thinking
on grievances and obsessions, and a life governed by routine and discipline,
with ideas taking the place of feelings. The result is involving, moving, and
though not deep sometimes provoking.
First published in 1942 (and set in 1941) Embers has only just been
translated into English, via a German translation from the original Hungarian.