Embers, by Sándor Márai (New York: Vintage International, 2002; first published in 1942)
In a “secluded woodland castle” in 1940, an old General receives his former friend, hoping that the evening will reveal the truth behind a moment during a hunt forty-one years before, a moment that changed lives forever. Conjuring "the mournful glamour of the decaying Austro-Hungarian Empire," Sándor Márai’s Embers moves between the tense, foreboding atmosphere of castle and forest and earlier times in a sparkling Vienna.
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, wasting away numbly, unshaven and in rags on a pile of musty rotting straw in a dungeon. It also enclosed memories as if they were dead, memories that lurked in damp corners the way mushrooms, bats, rats, and beetles lurk in the mildewed cellars of old houses. Door-latches gave off the traces of a once-trembling hand, the excitement of a moment long gone, so that even now another hand hesitated to press down on them. Every house in which passion has loosed itself on people in all its fury exudes such intangible presences. – from Embers, by Sándor Márai