Embers is nothing short of a literary masterpiece. Sándor Márai’s writing is mesmerizing from start to finish. Not just because Embers is written in a simple yet beautifully lyrical style, but also because of the subject matter. A snapshot in the lives of two men near the end of their lives, who were once best friends and have shared a long history together. In Embers, Márai artfully dissects human relationships from every angle, examining the meaning of friendship and love, as well as betrayal and infidelity. In doing so he subtly coaxes out the nuances of life and human behavior, without passing judgement on whether an individual’s chosen path is right or wrong. This is highlighted in many ways in one of my favorite passages from Embers which focuses on fidelity in a relationship:
“What is fidelity, what do we expect of the woman we love? I am old, and I have thought a great deal about this too. Is the idea of fidelity not an appalling egoism and also as vain as most other human concerns? When we demand fidelity, are we wishing for the other person’s happiness? And if that person cannot be happy in the subtle prison of fidelity, do we really prove our love by demanding fidelity nonetheless?”
Another of my favorites talks eloquently about love and desire:
“Is passion so deep and terrible and magnificent and inhuman? Is it indeed about desiring any one person, or is it about desiring desire itself? That is the question. Or perhaps, is it indeed about desiring a particular person, a single, mysterious other, once and for always, no matter whether that person is good or bad, and the intensity of our feelings bears no relation to that individual’s qualities or behavior?“
In summary, Embers is a novel that should be savored like a glass of fine wine. Even though you can no doubt easily finish it in a day or two, I would recommend taking your time to appreciate and reflect on Embers as you read it. Its not every day that you will come across such a chef-d’oeuvre!
Have you read Embers? What are your thoughts about it? Or have you read any of Márai’s other books? Which one was your favorite and why? Please feel free to share your thoughts in a comment below.