The Rebels tells the story of a group of young men on the eve of their graduation from a boy’s academy. Unfortunately, the year is 1918, and the place is a small town in provincial Hungary. All that awaits them is service at the front, a fate that already has taken nearly all of the men from the area. In a bid to escape the future of a likely death on the battlefield, four of the boys retreat into a world of their own, one filled with games and small thefts of an increasingly serious and bizarre character. Add in a traveling actor, and these activities soon spin out of control.
This literary work, the third of the “rediscovered” novels of Sandor Marai, is technically, perhaps, not a historical novel at all. Written in 1930 in Hungary, it is a story of a more contemporary nature. Its Hungarian author, who was the same age as his characters in 1918, provides a brief glimpse into the lives of young men born into the dissolution of an empire. The novel itself is written in narrative form. Within its pages there are essays on a variety of subjects and passages of haunting beauty. The prose is elaborate, given to long flights of fancy and introspection. Its tone is moody and its pace ponderous. It can be described as either brilliant or lugubrious. Its meaning, however, often gets lost in the many pages of this burdensome volume.