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Embers, Sándor Márai

A gyertyák csonkig égnek, 1942 (Budapest, Hungary)
Alfred A Knopf, October 2, 2001, (US), Translated by Carol Brown Janeway

The hunger for revenge consumes. You’re trapped without a key and the lock cannot be picked. A frantic search for answers ensues. Alone in your desperation, you reflect on the questions that have reigned supreme for decades and the resulting choices that were made. It is an intoxicating plunge into self.

Such is the force of human nature—it must provide or receive an answer to whatever is the defining question of a lifetime.

Questions of fate are paramount. Does destiny really exist at all and if so, to what extent? What role do our own actions play in conjunction with it all?

A man acts, even when he knows from the very onset that his act will be fatal. He and his fate are inseparable, they have a pact with each other that molds them both. It is not true that fate slips silently into our lives. It steps through the door that we have opened, and we invite it to enter. No one is strong enough or cunning enough to avert by word or deed the misfortune that is rooted in the iron laws of his character and his life.

And then there is love, always, love. What joins two lovers together? What ignites the flames of attraction in the first place?

Is it indeed about desiring a particular person or is it about desiring desire itself? That is the question. Or perhaps, is it indeed about desiring a particular person, a single, mysterious other, once and for always, no matter whether that person is good or bad, and the intensity of our feelings bears no relation to that individual’s qualities or behavior?

What if love, instead of being rooted in some mythical, magical attachment to another individual, was instead simply an extension of desire, similar and inherent to the human experience as hunger? Where would that leave us exactly?

As for the subject of monogamy. . . .

Is the idea of fidelity not an appalling egoism and also as vain as most other human concerns? When we demand fidelity, are we wishing for the other person’s happiness? And if that person cannot be happy in the subtle prison of fidelity, do we really prove our love by demanding fidelity nonetheless?

Relationships disintegrate in the wake of infidelity. Friendships are hacked by backstabbing betrayals. Truth is a disease, rotting and dying, vacant. Somewhere, there must be a bulging landfill containing piles upon piles of discarded love.

It was never fate. It was always us. It was always me.