An early novel from the great rediscovered Hungarian writer Sándor Márai, The Rebels is a haunting story of a group of alienated boys on the cusp of adult life—and possibly death—during World War I.
It is the summer of 1918, and four boys approaching graduation are living in a ghost town bereft of fathers, uncles, and older brothers, who are off fighting at the front. The boys know they will very soon be sent to join their elders, and in their final weeks of freedom they begin acting out their frustrations and fears in a series of 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, and one that reveals them to be strangers to one another. Resisting and defying adulthood, they find themselves still subject to its baffling power even in their attempted rebellion.
The distinguished poet George Szirtes has translated Marai gracefully. Marai s style, especially in his later works, is extremely clear and spare (there s an almost Balzacian inventory of Abel s household here, something you won t find again). But the clarity is deceptive. You 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.