Esther's Inheritance Hardcover – Nov 4 2008
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“Márai is one of the greatmodern novelists, in the same league as Gabriel García Márquez.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“Spellbinding.... A passionate tale.... Deliciously portentous: the deceptions woven around these characters introduce a sharp sliver of danger.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Deeply psychological.... Vivid and gripping....Pristinely wrought and breathtakingly incisive.”
—Booklist (starred review)
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
Sándor Márai was born in Kassa, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1900, and died in San Diego, California, in 1989. He rose to fame as one of the leading literary novelists in Hungary in the 1930s. Profoundly antifascist, he survived the war, but persecution by the Communists drove him from the country in 1948, first to Italy, then to the United States. Embers was published in English for the first time in 2001.See all Product Description
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Now, much later, Esther has decided to record every detail of her relationship with Lajos as part of the family history. Moving back and forth in time, Esther creates a vivid picture of Lajos and the magical, mysterious hold he has exerted on everyone, concentrating on his hold over her and her ability to resist (or not resist) his versions of the "truth." When he proposed to the vulnerable Esther, then twenty-two, she recognized him for the charming scoundrel he really was, but she also looked forward to a future with him. What she did not expect was that within weeks he would marry her younger sister Vilma and leave town, maybe forever. Twenty years have passed since they left. Vilma has died, and now Lajos has returned to the village, seeking Esther. Their dramatic confrontation and shared memories are the crux of the novel.
As Esther recalls events three years after Lajos's visit, the reader gradually sees that Esther is not a reliable narrator--nor is Lajos--and as details emerge regarding Lajos's marriage to Vilma, the tension within Esther (and the reader) becomes almost palpable. Lajos, we discover, has been even more devious than anyone has suspected, but as he begins to draw the reader into his orbit, the reader discovers that he may be the one person who comes closest to real self-knowledge. The heart-stopping conclusion leaves the reader in awe of Marai's ability to use dramatic irony to its fullest effect.
A master craftsman who compresses his novels so that every word, image, and detail adds to the atmosphere and suspense, Marai has only recently received the world-wide acclaim he deserves. A highly regarded writer in Hungary in the 1930s, he was forced out of the country in 1948, when his opposition to the Communist takeover made him an enemy of the government. Many of his books were believed lost forever, and none were available in English. In 2000, eleven years after Marai's death, Embers, long thought lost, was found in Italy, translated, and published. Esther's Inheritance, originally written in 1938, is the third novel to be translated and reissued since then. With universal themes and characters who reflect universal human failings, Marai's novels offer a fresh look at the age-old struggle to make sense of a confusing and conflicted world. n Mary Whipple
Casanova in Bolzano
The Rebels (Vintage International)
Memoir of Hungary, 1944-1948
The fine reviews by Krebsman and Mary Whipple provide a good overview of the plot. What I want to comment on, or ask, concerns the meaning or point of the novel. Surely the following passage, at the very outset of the novel (page 2), is significant in this regard:
"The first time I felt death might be salvation was when I knew that death was resolution and peace. Life alone is struggle and humiliation. And what a struggle it was! Who ordered it, and why was it impossible to avoid? I did all I could to escape it. But my foe pursued me. Now I know he could do nothing about it: we are bound to our enemies, nor can they escape us."
The narrator Esther wrote those words three years after the fateful day that is the subject of the rest of the novel, the day on which Lajos, who almost ruined the lives of Esther and her brother and the rest of her circle twenty-plus years before, re-enters their lives and renews his cynical and destructive toying with Esther. Marai has Esther call Lajos a scoundrel (as translated), but Lajos is even worse: he is a villain, so cavalierly amoral and selfish that he takes on the garb of evil, maybe even the devil incarnate. The mystery is why Esther, who seems to be almost the paragon of level-headedness, submits once again to the transparently false lies and empty promises of Lajos. She seems to explain her decision by agreeing that "there is a kind of invisible order in life and * * * what one has begun one has also to end", echoing Lajos's words, "The law of life is that what is once begun has to be finished." But that is nonsense or, at best, a shabby endorsement of fatalism. And so the novel ends up being exasperatingly unsatisfactory, at least to me.
Perhaps ESTHER'S INHERITANCE is best thought of as a novel of ideas, though, unless I am missing something, not very compelling ones. On the other hand, it is beautifully written, with much of the same ambiance as "Embers." And although it does not begin to measure up to "Embers" (one of the better novels I have read over the past few years), ESTHER'S INHERITANCE is certainly worth reading.