Sandor Marai Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Sandor Marai

Sandor Marai

An interview with Sandor Marai

Carol Brown Janeway, the English language translator of Embers, describes what it was like to first read Sándor Márai's lost classic.  The Communists banned his books and destroyed every copy they could find but thanks to the Italian publisher Roberto Calasso, his books have been resurrected.

Sometimes there is justice in the world. A couple of years ago, the great Italian publisher Roberto Calasso was on a trip to Paris when he noticed in a publisher's catalog the reissue of a list of neglected classics. Given his encyclopedic interest in Central European culture, he was curious to see the name of a Hungarian novelist, Sándor Márai, of whom he had never heard, and asked for material. Some French translations arrived, he started reading, and he realized that he was in the presence of that rarest of discoveries, a lost masterpiece. Calasso being Calasso, after a quick blizzard of phone calls, he was not only the owner of publishing rights to this book and two others, but was well on the way to unearthing an entire literary oeuvre.

Cut to the Frankfurt International Bookfair -- where publishers and agents from around the world meet to share their finds. I have hardly plopped down into my seat next to Calasso at a dinner when, with barely a nod to the usual convention of ten minutes of uproarious and unvarnished gossip about everybody and everything, he begins to talk about Márai. Nonsense forgotten, publishers from six countries around the table sit fixed on what he is saying. A few days later, back in New York, I get the package of the French translations and head home, almost dreading that they won't be, can't be, that good. I shouldn't ever have doubted. Hours later--it's 3 a.m.--I'm sitting with the last pages of Embers in my hands, and the world of twentieth-century literature has rearranged itself in my head.

The Communists banned Márai's books, destroyed every copy they could find, drove him into exile and oblivion. Fifty years later, Calasso has single-handedly set him back where he belongs, in the ranks of Musil, Joseph Roth, even (as some German critics are saying) Thomas Mann and Kafka. Embers has topped the best-seller lists in Italy and Germany already, and will be translated into twenty-three languages. The other books will follow. For any of us who work as editors, the discovery of a Márai would feel like the good fortune of a lifetime. I think and believe that when you read this book, you will feel that way too.

--Carol Brown Janeway, 2001.

Reproduced at BookBrowse with the permission of Random House.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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