Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

buy us books !
Amazon wishlist

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Rebels

Márai Sándor

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

To purchase The Rebels

Title: The Rebels
Author: Márai Sándor
Genre: Novel
Written: 1930 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 278 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: The Rebels - US
The Rebels - UK
The Rebels - Canada
Les Révoltés - France
Die jungen Rebellen - Deutschland
  • Hungarian title: A zendülők
  • Translated by George Szirtes

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : overheated, but effective period-piece

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 9/10/2001 Edo Reents
The Guardian . 13/10/2007 James Buchan
The Independent . 9/11/2007 Carole Angier
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 18/10/2001 Uwe Stolzmann
The NY Sun . 4/4/2007 Christian Lorentzen
The NY Times Book Rev. . 29/4/2007 Tibor Fischer
The New Yorker . 2/4/2007 Arthur Phillips
The Scotsman . 10/11/2007 Tibor Fischer
The Spectator . 10/10/2007 Alberto Manguel
The Telegraph . 1/11/2007 Alastair Sooke
TLS . 5/10/2007 Mihály Szegedy-Maszák

  From the Reviews:
  • "Die Handlung, die sich über anderthalb schwüle Maitage erstreckt, wird interessant in den Nuancen. (...) Es ist eine Väter-und-Söhne-Geschichte, die an Turgenjew denken läßt. Aber Márais Geschichte ist Turgenjews Werk überlegen; er ist nicht so holzschnittartig und kommt ohne großsprecherische Ideologie aus." - Edo Reents, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "It is a sort of Fathers and Sons in which the fathers have mysteriously vanished, absent at the front or returned half-mad or in pieces, and their places have been taken by shady Bohemian types whose mere characterisation serves to unfold the story. (...) Very few novels are not worse at the end than at the beginning, but it is the beginning that lingers in the memory, lit by strange lights and redolent of vanished smells, and all in Szirtes's strange but beautiful English." - James Buchan, The Guardian

  • "So the psychology is sharp and the plot gripping: what's the problem ? Partly it's the fevered, airless atmosphere. The plot turns on set scenes, which grow more theatrical -- until the last, literally set in a theatre. Add to this claustrophobia the morbidness of Márai's vision and the whole is hardly bearable. Everything is death and disease, murder and madness. The Rebels is a novel of adolescent despair, but somewhere there must be hope, or there's no point in carrying on, either with the book or with life." - Carole Angier, The Independent

  • "His provincial mode is already fully on display in The Rebels, more a curiosity than a classic. The novel is marked by passages of bleak elegiac grandeur (.....) This morbid aesthetic -- wherein all paths lead to oblivion -- inherently limits the possibilities of the novel." - Christian Lorentzen, The New York Sun

  • "Your read a sentence and then 10 minutes later you find yourself thinking, What did he really mean by that ? You'll be wondering about The Rebels a long time after you've put it down." - Tibor Fischer, The New York Times Book Review

  • "As a coming-of-age tale, The Rebels, for all its black humor, exists within a genre that has considerable currency in literature and cinema. (...) But even when dealing with familiar motifs or inherited plots, he proves his power. In The Rebels, stock characters -- the invalid mother, the poor boy with ambition, the fruity actor, the wounded veteran back from the front, the merciless Jewish pawnbroker -- pulse with life. And the language is often breathtaking" - Arthur Phillips, The New Yorker

  • "Many of Márai's novels are tweaked memoirs or (...) heavy on philosophical reflection. But this one fires on all narrative cylinders. (...) The distinguished poet George Szirtes has translated Márai gracefully. Márai's style, especially in his later works, is extremely clear and spare (...). But the clarity is deceptive. You read a sentence and then ten minutes later you find yourself thinking: what did he really mean by that ? You'll be wondering about The Rebels a long time after you've put it down." - Tibor Fischer, The Scotsman

  • "This is a novel about masculinity, about what it means to be a son, about male comradeship and homosexual love, about thirst for and fear of power, about playing games to ritualise that love and that thirst and that fear. Their tutelary gods are their fathers: terrible, jealous, unjust, impossible to satisfy or to kill." - Alberto Manguel, The Spectator

  • "Really, though, this is a novel concerned less with plot than with character and mood. There is something airless about the gang's world (...) that suits a tale of adolescent self-absorption. (...) What has not dated at all is the novel's dreamy, often surrealistic atmosphere, perfectly captured in George Szirtes's translation. Márai is excellent at summoning the listlessness and tomfoolery of adolescence." - Alastair Sooke, The Telegraph

  • "The Rebels is not only a novel about the anarchistic life of adolescents growing up without their fathers who are away fighting far from their homeland, but also about the end of a multi-ethnic Central European state (.....) The Rebels is a better novel than Embers" - Mihály Szegedy-Maszák, Times Literary Supplement

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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The Rebels is the story of a 'gang' of four friends, living in a provincial Hungarian city of some sixty-thousand inhabitants, at the time of their high school graduation -- boys on the verge of adulthood (one would think). They live in a period defined by World War I: out of a class of fifty a few years earlier only seventeen remain to graduate, as boys had to take the places on the farms of their fathers who went off to war, or otherwise drifted off or were forced away from school. War meant absent fathers, and the rare father who is present is so damaged as to hardly be much of a (traditional) father figure.
       Despite growing up in the war years, life seems fairly normal for the boys. They are affected, but, focussed on school and their friends, their childhoods are not that extraordinary.
       For a long time the four friends -- coming from different social backgrounds, and being very different types -- "took no notice of each other". But it only takes a moment, and suddenly Ábel, Béla, Ernõ, and Tibor find they're the best of friends -- a plausibly rendered childhood-event.
       They eventually even have their own gathering-place, and one of the things they find is that:

     They had long ago stopped being children, but here, in this room, they discovered that they dared to do what would have shamed them in town, even in front of each other, that, somewhat shyly, they could continue playing at childhood, indulging a part of themselves that could never properly be developed in childhood, a part they still retained.
       There's quite a bit of immaturity to them (they're all virgins, too, of course) and they engage in quite a bit of childish behaviour. They've chosen a different sort of rebellion from everything around them -- as they explain in a mock-trial when they pretend to answer such questions as might be posed to them by authority figures:
     "What else can you be preparing for if not for life ?"
     "We are not preparing at all, headmaster sir," Ábel replied calmly. "That is precisely the point. We have taken particular care not to prepare. Life can prepare for whatever it likes. What we are concerned with is something quite different."
       What they are concerned with -- they tell themselves --: "is to nurture comradeship." But by the time of their graduation -- the short period around which the novel is centred -- it's clear that even that isn't that simple. Ábel discovers, for example, that one of them has been cheating at their cardgames -- and in the semi-confrontation that follows they have to acknowledge that it could be any of them: the cheater may well have done so not to take advantage of his friends, but merely for the thrill, for example. But they also have to acknowledge that the cheating is a betrayal -- one of them not playing by the mutually agreed-upon rules (and they must wonder, of course, what that means regarding all the other tacit assumptions and rules governing their friendship ...).
       They already have a history of high-risk behaviour, of a peculiar sort: they steal. Money and all sorts of odds and ends. They steal from their families, each according to what they can lay their hands on. They waste the money, too, including on ridiculous luxuries -- and with the knowledge that a day of reckoning has to come. Stealing is, in particular, a betrayal of the father -- more in some cases than others -- and it is the wrath of the fathers that can be expected. And, of course, their world begins to collapse in these day around their graduation.
       Two outside adult figures also play prominent roles: the debauched actor, Amadé Volpay, and the local pawnbroker, Havas. The boys do business with Havas, and Amadé amuses them, but the gang doesn't realise that these are men from the grown-up world, and that they're not on an equal footing with them. The men have their own agendas and baggage -- and when everything comes together the boys find themselves far deeper in than they could have imagined. The simple rules of childhood clash with adult expectations -- and the boys suddenly have to grow up faster than they would like.
       The boys clearly will be heading off in different directions after graduation. Comradeship only goes so far -- and in part that is because much of the comradeship was based on the feelings and emotions of adolescence. So, for example, one of the boys is too beautiful for his own good (and the good of the others, too), and there's an element of boy-love (in its various manifestations) in several of the relationships -- including, most notably and consequentially, with Amadé. (There's also some lusting for women, but these are young, young men, and all of sex still largely mystifies them.)
       Marai heaps it on good and thick. The denouement can only be described as dripping with melodrama, but it's no less enjoyable for that. Set around the end of World War I, at the time of high school graduation (i.e. the time when they officially become adults), this novel has more dramatic crossroads than it can comfortably hold (even though it admittedly does likely represent much of Márai's own experience (as he turned eighteen in 1918)).
       Márai does set the scenes and get the feel of the period down very nicely. He's not always artful about it: "People know the precise moment when they leave a place forever", he writes, and then practically wallows in that feeling, for example -- but there's some appeal to his slightly old-fashioned (and certainly over-the-top) approach to all this. And he does draw some rich characters -- though they feel more like those one would find in a play, their interaction and conflicts and clash of too-large personalities feeling staged (and it's no surprise that a pivotal scene takes place on a theatre-stage ...).
       Trying to do a bit too much -- and doing it too obviously -- The Rebels is still a fairly appealing and lively period-piece that can certainly be enjoyed.

- Return to top of the page -


The Rebels: Reviews: Marai Sandor: Other books by Marai Sandor under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

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.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2007-2008 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links