All His World’s a Stage
Characters in Sándor Márai’s novels behave like actors, hiding their true selves from readers. But could Márai see behind the masks of his own creations?
by Sandor Marai
translation by George Szirtes
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At first glance, the Hungarian writer Sándor Márai could easily be accused of trafficking in stale plots: Of his four novels published posthumously in English translation, three hinge on the return of a long-lost lover or companion, and the other involves the appearance of a mysterious stranger. But Márai’s spellbinding prose restores strangeness and beauty to traditional motifs. The figurative language conjuring the standard castle-in-the-forest setting of his 1942 novel Embers illustrates this stylistic power:
The castle was a closed world, like a great granite mausoleum full of the moldering bones of generations of men and women from earlier times, in their shrouds of slowly disintegrating gray silk or black cloth. It enclosed silence itself as if it were a prisoner persecuted for his beliefs,
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