Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Embers" by Sándor Márai

Alternate Title: A Conversation that Lasts 139 Pages

Expectations? I thought this would be a rather tame old classic- it was published back in 1942 in Hungary. I was a bit kerfuffled when things took a strange turn at 60% (page 131), but I'm getting ahead of myself. My expectations, thank goodness, weren't the reality of this book.

Recently I've been reading a lot of books about friendship (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, rereading Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier for this blog), but I think this one takes the cake as far as friendship problems. The friends are both elderly males who grew up together- one comes from a wealthy, titled background (he owns a castle), the other one has struggled with poverty and guilt over his parents paying his room and board at military school. Recipe for disaster? Not necessarily, in my opinion, but what I thought about them at the start of the book changed completely once past the infamous page 131.

The Plot:
Two men, the General and his best friend forever Konrad, had a falling out 41 years ago, and haven't heard, seen, or written to each other since. But the General has heard Konrad is finally on his way to see him- and prepares a dinner almost identical to the one they had after they had their argument, and plots his revenge, as well as how to get the answers he needs. Will their friendship be able to survive the night?

What I liked about this book is it keeps you guessing. I had theorized some of what had broken their contact, but not all of it, and that is what is essential to the mystery part of this book. There would be absolutely no enjoyment in reading this book if you read the spoilers, something I'm happy to report I didn't do.

My personal bone of contention with this lovely classic is... little to no closure. I mean, when it finally ended, I was pissed off- I realize the author did give us some closure, but not enough for me, and not in the way I wanted it. It was as if the author (now deceased, rest in peace) was either winking at me or flipping me off by the last page of the book. I can respect that, but I kind of wanted what I wanted (which is incredibly hard to speak about without spoiling it), and I didn't get it. He left this poor book devourer hungry, and I can't even demand answers at a book signing or in stalkerish emails.

Embers is truly a masterful classic. It takes you into the inner sanctum of bromance and leaves you wanting more, even if the main characters do wax poetic for a little longer than I'd like. If you're desiring a classic that proves it's anything but bland, Embers is my recommendation for you.

Note: My original rating was 3ish Stars, but I'm left thinking about this book three days later, hence the...

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a classic that broke my brain for a few days...

Content: Ages 16+ for themes of... I can't really tell you. Mild violence and unsatisfying revenge, in addition to racial slurs and minor sexism (i.e. there's a part that says "A feeling known only to men. A feeling called friendship." which makes no sense).

Page Count: 213 pages in my paperback edition

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