Sándor Márai

April 11: The Hungarian novelist Sándor Márai was born on this day in 1900. Márai's books have become bestsellers recently, after having been nearly forgotten for decades. Fiercely anti-Nazi and anti-Communist, Márai fled Hungary in 1948 and refused to allow his work to be published there under any Communist regime. Eventually settling in San Diego, he continued to write, publishing forty-six books before his suicide in 1989.

 

Only brief excerpts from Márai's diaries have been translated to English as yet (by Tim Wilkinson in the Hungarian Quarterly) but they promise another bestseller. The entries from his last years are a riveting historical and personal document, ranging from his dying wife's daybreak declaration of love to his target practice with his suicide revolver to his memories of his life-journey. The following is taken from his March 18, 1984 entry, when Márai was three weeks away from his eighty-fifth birthday:

A dinner in the Mikó utca apartment, 40 years ago today. Everything was, at that point, still in its place, two maids, the big apartment. The table setting as in the good old days: silver ware, china, everything just as it should be. Of the family members around the table, sharing in that supper on my name-day, my mother, Aunt Julie, brother-in-law Gyula, sister-in-law Tessie, and Alice Madách have all passed away. My brothers are still alive, so am I, and L. too, though only just. That night German Nazi troops occupied Budapest. Everything was dislocated- life, work, Hungary, the old order and disorder. A total break. 
I was 44 and just recovering from a severe illness. Two weeks later came the move out to Leányfalu, into exile, with the dog and a maid. The bombardment of Budapest began, with our own house being hit by 36 shells and bombs on the last day of the siege; everything was destroyed. I left half my life there. Then came the second round, the roaming across continents. It was 40 years ago today that the self I was until then perished, and that other self who I am today took shape—and now even that is in the process of disintegration.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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