“On the contrary, people usually find the process of being thrown together painful and embarrassing. It is not a particularly amusing experience for two people to find themselves in company.” – Sándor Márai, The Rebels
One of my favorite writers is the Hungarian fin de seicle author Sándor Márai. The first book of his that I read was Portrait of a Marriage an astoundingly nuanced and intimate look from multiple sides at a marriage. The first wife’s, then the husband’s, then the second wife’s, and then there is the male friend who remains strangely central to the story. I say it is about a marriage even though there is more than one, because it really is singular in a way. It is a wonderful book that turns your sympathies over and inside out throughout the story.
“The act does not constitute the whole truth, it is always and only a consequence, and if one day any of us has to become judge and pronounce sentence, it is not enough for us to content ourselves with the fact in the police report, we also have to acquaint ourselves with the motive.” – Portrait of a Marriage
The second book I read was Embers. It’s a story that unfolds 40 something years after the central events. Two old friends spend an evening together dissecting their friendship as well as the relationship between the host’s wife and the visiting long lost friend. Through one man’s retelling (the host) the story of their friendship, betrayal, and abandonment serves to highlight life’s complicated nature of truth, love, class, country, and occupation.
I recently began The Rebels. Another story about relationships, but this time amongst four young friends as they make their way toward an adulthood that (in 1918) will hurl them into the midst of World War I. The natural collapse of their childhood is set against the collapse of their country while their village’s altered state wrought by the absence of all able bodied men being called to the front, is manifested in a spiral of strange and subversive behavior.
Márai has a way of stating things so succinctly, with a perfect tone of resigned cynical humor , that particularly perks me up. I laugh out loud at lines such as:
“He wore generously fitting, light suits that skillfully disguised his fatness…It was as if his girth were no more than some kind of misapprehension that existed between him and the world at large, and he never ceased talking about it.” The Rebels
However his larger themes are the what I really love about his writing. His understanding of human fallibility, remorse and decay. It’s not that he makes me feel good about life, or my own humanity, it’s just that there is a sort of beautiful communion and commiseration with him, someone you can just lean your head against.