A review of

Casanova in Bolzano

by Sándor Márai

Central question: Is romantic love ever not relentless?
Format: 304, hardcover; Size: 5” x 7.5”; Price: $22.00; Publisher: Knopf; Editor: Carol Janeway; Designer: Virginia Tan; Typeface: Garamond; Author’s home-in-exile: San Diego, California; Books written in lifetime: Fifty-six; Number of author’s novels Knopf recently bought the rights to: Twenty-three; Representative sentence: “Life is when a man and woman meet because they suit each other, because what they have in common is what the rain has in common with the sea, the one always rising from and falling back into the other, each creating each, one as a condition of the other.”

By fluke, or destiny, Hungarian novelist Sándor Márai’s afterlife in English resembles the pattern of quietude and poetic exuberance found in his novels, of which Casanova in Bolzano is only the second to be translated. The pattern, more precisely, is this: precipitated by injustice, a long silence is undergone until, unexpectedly lifted, out flows a meditation on love and its vicissitudes. In the case of Márai, this injustice took the form of Communist officials who, after their rise to power in 1948, banned Márai’s work. Exiled first to Italy and later to America, Márai committed suicide in 1989, before the international community would fête him as a master.

For the eponymous rogue of Márai’s 1940 novel, escape from Venice’s infamous prison, the Leads, ends a similar exile. Fleeing his pursuers, Casanova and his accomplice, the defrocked friar Balbi, alight in the town of Bolzano. At the Stag Inn, Casanova encounters a suspicious innkeeper, an artless good-hearted chambermaid, and a garrulous barber, “the official traitor to the municipality.”

The comedic tone struck in the novel’s opening pages chimes with Márai’s stated intention that it is Casanova’s romantic rather than historical specter that he is interested in conjuring.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Christopher Byrd

Christopher Byrd is a freelance cultural writer. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Wilson Quarterly, and Bookforum.

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