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the Complete Review
the complete review - diary

Napló 1984-1989

Márai Sándor

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

Title: Napló 1984-1989
Author: Márai Sándor
Genre: Diary
Written: (1997
Length: 213 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: Tagebücher 1984-1989 - Deutschland
  • Hungarian title: Napló 1984-1989
  • Napló 1984-1989 is not yet available in English translation

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Our Assessment:

A- : simple, poignant

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Literature Today . Summer/2000 George Gomori

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) gift to those readers who are willing to follow Marai into the prisonlike existence of his declining years, which were soured by illness and the death of all those whom he loved: his brothers, his wife Lola, and finally his adopted son Janos. Naplo 1984-1989 is a record of this process of continuing loss, and the general tone is caustic and somber." - George Gomori, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Napló 1984-1989 is an old man's journal, and it is filled with reminders of mortality. Frail, his eyesight failing, Márai walks unsteadily through these final years. Death is omnipresent, from the senseless (mass-)murders and deaths he reads about in the newspaper to his siblings dying one after another. The strongest reminder hits closest to home: his beloved wife, companion of more than six decades, is even frailer than he, and her decline comes fast and hits him hard. (Tragically, one of the few remaining people close to him, his adopted son also dies, entirely unexpectedly.)
       Death is the focus of these diaries, but, until the very end, Marai doesn't give in: in best Beckett manner he is torn between I can't go on/I'll go on -- and manages, quite well, most of the while.
       A forgotten Hungarian author (the Marai-renaissance only came after the fall of the communist regime in Hungary), living in exile in San Diego, almost everyone of his generation dead, he and his wife nevertheless seem to live fairly happily in relatively humble circumstances. Marai isn't writing much -- finishing and then correcting the proofs of the 1976-83 volume of his diaries, eventually completing a mystery that he's been working on for years -- and his eyes only let him read a small amount daily. But he and his wife putter around as best they can -- until she breaks her arm and never completely recovers. Devoted to her, much of the diary focusses on her dying days -- a prolonged period of decline.
       The diary is effective because Marai does not wallow or overwrite. Brief but precise, his observations and accounts effectively convey the difficult times (and the occasional moments of joy and release).
       The diaries do take a disturbing turn when he describes acquiring a gun soon after the death of his wife -- telling the store clerk that 50 bullets are probably more than he'll need. He claims he isn't suicidal when he purchases it, but clearly he is preparing for all eventualities, and as his own state (physical and mental) worsens the inevitable looms ever larger. From concerns that he'll wait until it's too late (and he'll no longer be able to get the gun from the drawer when he needs it) to his taking a shooting course (months after he bought the gun), presumably to make sure he knows how to use the gun properly, much of this is eery stuff. (The reader is, of course, aware, that Marai did eventually put the gun to that one use.)
       Brief notes on what he's reading, observations on the world around him (distant Hungary often still a presence), recollections, concerns: most of it is interesting, nothing superfluous (Marai doesn't seek to hide or escape in his diary-writing, and stylistically it's a striking contrast to the wordy novels from the 1940s that have been translated into English).
       These old-age notes show a man living in isolation, with few friends or visitors -- after his wife dies the cleaning woman is, as he frequently notes, among his only human contacts. He's resigned to this, and not entirely unhappy about it: such solitary isolation still seems preferable to him than the alternative, the isolation of the old in the company of others. The loss of his wife is, of course, a devastating blow, but he endures. Over the years, his diary-writing tapers off too, the slow retreat from the world.
       There's little that is joyful in the book, but -- except for brief moments of bitterness (a brief mention of the terrible New York years) and the grief that comes with losing loved ones -- Marai seems satisfied with his life and what he's accomplished. The approaching fall of the communist regime wasn't entirely obvious by the time he died, but the wind of change had reached him, and there are pleasing triumphant moments such as when he suddenly finds himself in great demand back home, publishers competing to bring out all his writings -- a complete capitulation as he calls it (he had fallen out of favour decades earlier, and essentially none of his older work was still in print or available in Hungary, and his post-1948 work had only been published abroad). Marai turns down the offers, saying he will only permit publication once the Russian occupiers are gone -- a stand that is all the more pleasing because the reader knows that, even if Marai didn't see it happen, it soon came to pass (as did Marai's eventual pan-European triumph).
       Poignant and touching, but not overly sentimental, Napló 1984-1989 is a fine old man's diary. Recommended.

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Napló 1984-1989: Reviews: Marai Sandor: Other books by Marai Sandor under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Hungarian author Márai Sándor (1900-1989) was a leading author in Hungary in the 1930s but under the Communists his work fell into utter oblivion. He left Hungary in 1948, first for Italy, then the US, where he eventually committed suicide.

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