Rediscovered is such a lovely word. Something that has only existed in memory is returned to life, is made real and tangible. When what is rediscovered is a...
Rediscovered is such a lovely word. Something that has only existed in memory is returned to life, is made real and tangible. When what is rediscovered is a great artist, then a degree of hope has been added to the world.
Sándor Márai was an important writer, the leading Hungarian literary artist of his time the 1930s. Prolific in many genres, Márai left his home country in 1948. He had lived under the Nazis; and the communists, who came immediately after, banned his works and hounded him relentlessly. He moved south, living in Italy, then later in the United States. He died in 1989, in San Diego, by his own hand.
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Miraculously, two things happened. The Hungarians reprinted his novel “Embers” soon after his death; and the Italian writer and publisher Roberto Calasso while visiting Paris saw the title on a publisher’s list of forgotten classics. After reading a French translation of the book, Calasso secured the rights and published the novel.
In 2001, Knopf brought out “Embers” in English. The novel has been internationally praised. A literary light is shining once again.
“Casanova in Bolzano” is Márai’s second novel to receive an English translation. In his author’s note Márai states his only fidelity to Casanova’s history are the “time and circumstances of his escape. Everything else the reader comes across is fable and invention.”
And what invention!
Late at night on Oct. 31, 1756, Giacomo Casanova, the grand seducer, escapes from the fearful Venetian palace-prison known as Leads. On the road to Munich, he and his accomplice, an uncouth defrocked friar named Balbi, stop at an inn in the village of Bolzano, the scene of one of Casanova’s humiliations: Some years previously he was bested in a duel by the duke of Parma. Both were fighting for the attentions of a young beautiful lady named Francesca, a woman the profligate Casanova thinks he may have loved.
The duke has forbidden Casanova to return to his estate under penalty of death. Now Francesca’s husband, the duke is aging, yet a very powerful man.
What follows is a series of conversations on the nature of love which, it turns out, is the nature of life.
The duke is a man born to rule, supremely confident in the manly affairs of politics and property. He wishes to hold on to what he sees as his; he is all about possession and the fine art of the bargain.
Casanova is a romantic. This doesn’t mean he loves women to distraction. Rather, he loves the freedom to pursue them. He relishes the anarchy of adventure, the whirl of chance and fortune.
Francesca is wiser than both men. What she offers Casanova, the man she truly loves, is the union of souls.
What Márai does is create gorgeous arias of reasoned argument sensual, psychological studies of character, which evolve into a kind of theater of the life force. We readers who are listening outside of the novel hear the pure, forceful persuasions of the world.