Synopses & Reviews
Embers . . . Casanova in Bolzano . . .
and now The Rebels:
the third of the rediscovered novels of the great Hungarian writer—the jolting story of a troubled group of young men on the cusp of life, and death, in World War I.
It is the summer of 1918. As graduation approaches at a boys’ academy in provincial Hungary, the senior class finds itself in a ghost town. Fathers, uncles, older brothers—all have been called to the front. Surrounded only by old men, mothers, aunts, and sisters, the boys are keenly aware that graduation will propel them into the army and imminently toward likely death on the battlefield. In the final weeks of the academic year, four of these young men—and the war-wounded older brother of one of them—are drawn tightly together, sensing in one another a mutual alienation from their bleak, death-mapped future. Soon they are acting out their frustrations and fears in a series of increasingly serious, strange, and subversive games and petty thefts. But when they attract the attention of a stranger in town—an actor with a traveling theater company—their games, and their lives, begin to move in a direction they could not have predicted and cannot control.
"First published in 1930, this lugubrious novel is the third by Hungarian novelist Mrai (1900 1989) to be translated into English in the last decade. Four class of 1918 students expect to be in uniform and at the front by the end of the summer. Over the course of their last year of school, they have played an elaborate game of thievery, stealing petty cash and useless items mostly from their own families and storing the purloined objects in rooms rented from a local inn, to which they repair after lunch to 'continue playing at childhood.' By the end of the school year, however, the game has escalated beyond their control; Tibor Prockauer, the most aristocratic of the group, has pawned the family silver, and the gang (including grocer's son Bla, doctor's son bel and poor cobbler's son Ern) has no means to recover it. The war as a malevolent backdrop to the students' desperate game makes their plight vivid, but the characters themselves are less so. By the time Mrai's moody, uneven narration gives way to the students' long-winded confessions, the novel's seams are clearly visible." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)