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Memoir of Hungary, 1944-1948

av Sándor Márai

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The novel Embers is selling in tens of thousand in a number of countries. This memoir of its author depicts Hungary between 1944 and 1948.

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  David.llib.cat | Oct 22, 2020 |
Memoir of Hungary is a fine book by a very talented Hungarian writer who, unfortunately, is not widely translated, yet, into English. Marai wrote over 40 books, but I believe the only other two available in English are Embers, and Casanova at Bolzano; the next is The Rebels, to be released in March/07.

This memoir, written in the 70s, starts with the Russian invasion and occupation of Hungary at the end of WWII, through the early steps and final establishment of the communist government, and Marai's decision to leave Hungary for exile to the West. It is, at the same time, an interesting, informed and sensitive contemplation of Hungary as a country, the true tragedy of the war (for Marai) with the death of humanism that was Europe's greatest contribution to civilization, the birth of a superficial, consumer-focused society post-war, the decline of literature, the nature of politics and particularly of communism and its impact on individuals, and the value and strengths of Hungarian literature and language.

The siege and occupation of Budapest by the Red Army is a traumatic event that Marai describes in considerable detail, including his own frequent interactions with soldiers and officers. He is careful not to let any preconceived notions cloud his judgements of the Soviets though he does think of WWII in the longer historical perspective of relations between the east and west. He is continually perceptive in his analysis of politics, trends and events, for instance, echoing George Orwell in his criticism of the fellow-travelling intellectuals of the West:

...the Soviet Union...will throw itself some day on Western Europe, if it will have the opportunity to do so, and the ‘liberal', ‘bridge-building' and ‘coexisting' Western intelligentsia will have paved the way for the undertaking.

Marai takes every opportunity he can to speak with the Soviet soldiers and officers, to try to understand them and their viewpoints. He finds them limited by the Soviet-communist outlook that has shaped their learning and he discerns an even more basic difference:

The men I came to know during these weeks and observed later in many different guises were, on the surface, exactly like the Westerners, but their awareness of their own personalities did still not correspond to Western man's individual self-consciousness.

Marai wrote poetry, which he describes as "rhythmic lines", but he says that he is not a poet:

...missing from my sensibility, from my consciousness, is that distilling power which poetry is and which, with magical sometimes demonic energy, catalyzes in a single word the elements of emotion and reason...the dense and potentially explosive tensile power of poetry...

For Marai, Europe's greatest gift to the mankind's domain is "humanism" which he defines as "the measure of a man"; a belief that the individual is the measure of all things that no system, whether it be political, religious, economic or social can provide. This, he fears, is what has been lost in the "humanity-denying sneer of the Second World War" with no"moral reckoning" of the true meaning of the war to be found anywhere. Everything is falsehood.

Marai visited Switzerland after the war and could have stayed in the West, as did many of his contemporaries at that time. What pulled him back was his love for the Hungarian language, his desire to live and to write in it. But even this was not enough once the communist system started to assert itself, slowly at first, but then reaching into every aspect of life and society. He makes an interesting contrast between the Nazis and the Communists: "The Communists wanted something more and different: they demanded that their victims remain alive and celebrate the system that destroys human sensibility and self-esteem in its victims."

In the end, Marai realized that he had to leave:

I had to leave it [Hungary] not just because the Communists would not let me write freely, but mainly and even much more so because they would not let me be silent freely. In this system, if a writer does not repudiate everything into which he was born...the Communists sometimes make a living corpse, sometimes–as they did out of Russian writers who refused to submit–a real corpse out of him.

A year passed between the time of Marai's decision and when he actually left Hungary. He used the time to immerse himself in the second-order of Hungarian writers, writers he knew he would not find anywhere in the West, but writers who spoke to the Hungarian soul and experience.

Finally, as he was close to leaving, Marai had an epiphany on the nature of the Communist system:

...what would happen if suddenly someone would declare that everything being planned and put into effect is not merely greedy and brutal, but also profoundly, hopelessly, unnecessary and stupid?...anyone who clings to the Letter of a Hundred years is stupid because life is not a letter but a process of change.

An excellent memoir and review of the currents that swept and shaped Europe after the war.
4 rösta John | Sep 9, 2006 |
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» Lägg till fler författare (12 möjliga)

Författarens namnRollTyp av författareVerk?Status
Sándor Máraiprimär författarealla utgåvorberäknat
Alföldy, MariÖversättaremedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
Bianu, ZénoTraductionmedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
Guiness, SelinaTranslator (Poems)medförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
Kassai, GeorgesTraductionmedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
Tezla, AlbertÖversättaremedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
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The novel Embers is selling in tens of thousand in a number of countries. This memoir of its author depicts Hungary between 1944 and 1948.

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