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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, a man so full of energy--and lies--that life became a dangerous, exciting adventure for everyone. As persuasive as he was charming, he lived the good life, often "borrowing" valuable items and money from friends.
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