January 15, 2002 |
By the time Sandor Marai touched the barrel of the gun to the roof of his mouth, he had already plotted how the next few minutes would unfold. It was a warm and clear-skied Tuesday in February. The cleaning woman had the day off, so would not be wandering in. Marai's closest living relatives--his daughter-in-law and three teenage granddaughters--visited only on weekends, so they too would be spared the shock of finding their beloved "Poppa" in a blood-splattered room.
December 15, 2004 |
Posthumous fame -- if only the person could be alive to enjoy it. That is the knot at the center of the lives and reputations of Giacomo Casanova and Sandor Marai, both of whom were well known in their times but conscious that their real fame would be in posterity. There really is a vivid, compelling Casanova (1725-1798) lurking behind the tired contemporary phrase, "he's a real Casanova."
November 11, 2001 |
On a summer day in 1940 in a Hungarian castle, Henrik, a 75-year-old general, is waiting for Konrad, his closest friend from childhood. They haven't seen each other in 41 years--not since a hunt they had been on in July 1899. Eventually Konrad arrives. Dinner is served. The general talks and asks a few questions. The visitor departs. The reader of "Embers" will have been very quietly nailed to the spot by this short, mesmerizing novel depicting the nature and limits of friendship.
November 21, 2004 |
Tattoo for a Slave Hortense Calisher Harcourt: 336 pp., $24 "Only trust the inanimate," Hortense Calisher muses in her latest memoir, while recalling the two kinds of cupcakes she ate as a child -- one frothy and over-iced, the other small and underdecorated -- the two of them representing, respectively, the lavish German and prim Southern strains of her ancestry. Calisher, who grew up in New York City, here considers her slave-owning Jewish forebears. Her father was born in Richmond, Va.
January 4, 2009 |
Much like a bit of DNA from a frozen mammoth somehow bringing that huge, stomping beast back to life, the novels of the Hungarian Sandor Marai -- many decades old, dealing with long-vanished worlds and only now published here -- have returned from literary extinction with unfaded fierceness and dazzle. "Embers," the first to appear, in 2001, is a night-long verbal duel between two dying aristocratic rivals on the eve of World War II.
July 15, 2007 |
WHEN J.M. Coetzee received the Nobel Prize in 2003, the citation from the Swedish Academy dwelt primarily on his career as a novelist. That made perfect sense. Although the author had produced a large body of memoir, criticism and polemical prose, it was his pitiless fiction that made the biggest impact, from the quasi-allegory of "Waiting for the Barbarians" to the serial traumas of "Disgrace." These are major books, despite their slender heft and endless modulations of disgust.