January 1, 2005
Thank you for the splendid, personal account by Tim Rutten of his friendship with Susan Sontag ["The Life of a Restless Mind," Dec. 29]. I too feel the loss of this lively, intellectual woman -- almost as though we had been personal friends. Sontag has influenced my reading over the years, led me to writers I might never have encountered (Sandor Marai, Karoly Pap, many more) and thus been denied the brilliance and humanity of their work. How sorely this distorted world needs people who offer their humane vision, bravely.
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.
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.
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.
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.