A review of
Casanova in Bolzano
by Sándor Márai
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.
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