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Kitabwallah: Embers by Sandor Marai


Set in the late nineteenth century, this novel by Hungarian novelist Sandor Marai, originally written in Hungarian and translated into English by Carol Brown Janeway,discusses a variety of colorful aspects of human life. It talks about royalties, castles, solitude, dimly lit rooms with furniture that hasn't been touched in decades, emotions, love, friendship, deceit and betrayal, a possible extramarital affair, and a failed murder attempt.          
The story begins with the introduction of the protagonist, the general, who receives a letter informing him of the arrival of his guest, a friend whom he has not seen in 41 years. Then it introduces another important character, Nini, the ninety-year-old nurse who has suckled the general and served as a refuge for him during difficult times. The story continues by describing the preparations in the castle for the guest's long-awaited arrival, depicting melancholy scenes from the dining hall and leading to the salon where both the guest and host settle, sniffing vintage wines and smoking cigars and warming them beside the fireplace. The conversation then began. The plot progresses through flashbacks.

Sandor Marai has beautifully reflected his wisdom throughout the protagonist's conversation with his friend, the evening's guest Konrad. During the general's isolation in the castle, he immersed himself in books. He devoured books on a variety of topics. He absorbed wisdom from the books and let it out while conversing with his friend Konrad. Henrik, the general, talks about how he met Konrad in the academy and how he became friends with him, and how his father accepted him as his friend despite being not so open to falling into unfruitful relationships. He discusses hunting and his honeymoon with Krisztina. He talks about his travels through Europe and the Arabian world, and how he encountered different cultures, people, and places. The dialogue between the general and his friend Konrad, which takes up most of the book, is filled with stories, assumptions, perplexing questions, and accusations. He kept questioning Konrad about the things that had been torturing him over the years that Konrad had tried to kill him, and then he fled the town without being noticed. They hadn't seen each other in 41 years, and now they're sitting beside the fireplace, both with burning questions in the general's heart. He talks about his love for Krisztina, his wife, about the day he raided Konrad's abandoned apartment in town, who fled after attempting to kill him during a hunting game, about how Krisztina arrives at the apartment and how she reacts to the scene, calling Konrad a "coward" after learning about his flight.

The novel's most captivating aspect is its poetical writing style and the way it gradually unfolds the facts. There are times when the reader suspects that the general and his friend Konrad were having a different kind of "affair," which is unacceptable given their professions (both are soldiers). Then it moves on to reflect the general's relationship with his wife Krisztina. Throughout the text, wisdom is expressed through dialogues and commentary on specific events that occur. When you read, you constantly change your mind about the characters' strengths or where your sympathies will fall. You remember the general because he had to deal with betrayal, deception, and a failed murder attempt by a friend he adored. You remember Konrad because of his helplessness in dealing with his life and surroundings, as well as his poverty and thoughts of being disadvantaged. Then the general unfolds and reflects on who was the stronger. According to the general, it was Krisztina. She was the one who eventually suffered significant losses. She pursued a romantic relationship with his husband's friend, but he abandoned her. She lost her husband when they both stopped talking and lived apart for eight years until Krisztina died. The general believed this because both he and Konrad had survived. ".....she wanted nothing," the general says of Krisztina. Krisztina had character in a different sense than men use, because she, too, had been wounded by those she loved: by this one (Konrad) because he fled from love, not wanting to be consumed by a fateful liaison; and by that one (the general) because he knew the truth, waited, and said nothing. Things didn't just happen to you and me during those years; they also happened to her." This reveals how much he loved Krisztina despite everything and how much she meant to her even though he hadn't seen her in eight years until she gasped her last breaths.

This novel is filled with strong emotions and assessments of human nature and tendencies. The only thing that bothered me at times was the length of the dialogue between the general and Konrad, which was almost a monologue by the general because Konrad was nearly silent throughout the conversation. However, the author's wisdom and psychological reflections in the voice of the general compensated for this. It eventually becomes a must-read masterpiece and a representative of Hungarian literature because it conveys so many valuable things with deep emotions, such as history, culture, life, and death. The protagonist, the general, turns out to be the most moving and amicable character in the end because he endured everything, his loved ones kept dying around him, his father, his mother, and eventually Krisztina, forcing him to many years of solitude and old age. As his own part, he endured the separation from his childhood friend, whom he adored. He had to deal with betrayal in love, friendship, and life. For decades, he lived in seclusion. He was, after all, the one who had lost everything and everyone. He turns out to be a loner, a vivid reader who is deeply concerned because he has unanswered questions.

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