It has been said that a man lives for as long he has something to live for, as if some deeper yearning fuels the engines of his fabric and binds the bones, muscle and sinew in a being of definite and concrete boundaries - an aspect of some primordial fire whose nature it is to burn its true and only flame before self-consuming its conflagration.
A man as such is Hénrik, center character and narrator, an hermit in his own castle-house deep in the forests of Hungary. He waits as a hunter waits his prey for the imminent return of Konrád, a friend whose departure has left him with forty-one years of reflection about the nature of his hasty farewell. But there is one question that has been left unanswered.
Sandór Marái’s “Embers” is an engrossing novel about the significance of human relationships in its many facets, the joys and bitter agonies of friendship and romantic love, portrayed in the dialogue between the two friends who recollect over sixty years of shared existence, even when living on the other side of the world. As Marái explores the relationship between the two characters, the more one understands the almost antagonistic nature of their personalities.
Hénrik is the wealthy son of the Officer of the Guard, the soldier, the man whose worldview permits only the orderly disposition of things, as each man and woman, every peasant, nobleman and king fall into their proper places in the hierarchy of the world, each of them a cog that spins the machine of sensuality and soft delights.
Konrád, on the other hand, is the product of the ambition of his poor parents whose senseless life has demanded that they craft of the young boy what they themselves could not achieve for them. Alas, Konrád is different, he lingers in the substance of music, the raw, serious tune which can instill the breadth of passion and sorrow.
But as much as Hénrik is the light of civilization and Konrád the darkness of the earth, the reader soon follows that none of them exists wholly without the other. Hénrik longs for the primal jungle, the scent of moist leaves as dawns breaks before the hunt - the kill is the ultimate ritual and the ultimate mark of manhood. Konrád envies the wealth of his friend, not because he truly desires riches but because it was its lack which tumbled his parents into enrolling Konrád into military school, at the high cost of Konrád’s free and unseasoned living, dedicated to the pursuit of his lyrical passions.
As the novel softly settles to a close, a new understanding dawns in Hénrik. As all the fury and anger erupted by the leaving of his friend lessened with the years and gave way only to acceptance and tranquility, a change also took him, an ineffable knowledge that when the wick is black, it is only passion in its tempestuous nature that can justify a life.