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Category Archive for 'Hungary'

Sandor Marai–CASANOVA IN BOLZANO

Escaping in 1756, after sixteen months in a Venice jail, Giacomo Casanova, “all seven deadly sins in one accursed body,” arrives in Bolzano, where the Doge and the Inquisition cannot reach him. Seeing himself as “that rare creature, a writer with a life to write about,” he and a defrocked priest, Balbi, move into a hotel, not far from where the Duke of Parma and his young bride Francesca reside. Casanova was wounded by the duke in a duel over Francesca three years before and has promised never to see her again. When the Duke arrives at Casanova’s hotel with a letter from Francesca, asking to see him, the stage is set for the action and a surprising ending.

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Sandor Marai–EMBERS

As full of dramatic tension as anything written by Poe, this masterpiece of character development idealizes the personal values of a lost world, and celebrates the rewards and obligations of friendship. Henrik, a former Austro-Hungarian general and member of the aristocracy, is approaching the end of his life, having lived 75 years according to the “male virtues: silence, solitude, and the inviolability of one’s word.” He is awaiting a visit from Konrad, his former best friend, a man he has not seen or heard from in “41 years and 43 days,” a man he believes betrayed him and upon whom he has yearned for revenge for more than half his life. The simple narrative framework allows Henrik to tell the story through his own meditations and his one-sided conversation with Konrad after his arrival.

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Full of the kind of dramatic tension and intimacy usually associated with great stage plays, Hungarian author Sandor Marai’s newest novel to be translated into English plumbs the depths of a love thwarted and then revisited years later. Twenty-three years before the book opens, sensible Esther, now in her mid-forties, shared a once-in-a-lifetime passion with Lajos, a man who bewitched everyone who came into contact with him—her brother, her family, and her friends—a man so full of energy—and lies—that life became a dangerous, exciting adventure for everyone around him. As persuasive as he was charming, he lived the good life, often “borrowing” valuable items or money from friends, and they, just as often, excusing him, wanting to believe that he would eventually return or replace what he borrowed (or not caring enough to challenge him). Esther, believing it important for the family history, has now decided to record every detail of her earlier relationship with Lajos. Moving back and forth in time, Esther creates a vivid picture of Lajos and the magical, mysterious hold he exerted on everyone, concentrating on his hold over her and her ability to resist (or not resist) his versions of the “truth.” (To see the entire review, click on the title at the top of this excerpt._

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This is a masterpiece to be savored, celebrated, and shared. Straddling the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, The Radetzky March uniquely combines the color, pomp, pageantry, and military maneuvering of the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with the more modern political and psychological insights of the twentieth century, giving this short book a panoramic geographical and historical scope with fully rounded characters you can truly feel for. Following the fortunes of three generations of the Trotta family, the novel opens with the story of the grandfather, whose battlefield actions in the mid-nineteenth century save the life of the man who becomes Emperor Franz Josef. He is well rewarded by the emperor, and his son and grandson remain connected with the leaders of the country and benefit from this relationship. Atmospheric effects are so rich and details are so carefully selected that you can hear the clopping of hooves, rattling of carriage wheels, clang of sabers, and percussion of rifles. Parallels between the actions of man and actions of Nature, along with seasonal cycles, bird imagery, and farm activity, permeate the book, grounding it and connecting the author’s view of empire to the reality of the land. (To see the entire review, click on the title at the top of this excerpt.)

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