For my previous two reviews in this series I have churned out over 2500 words and so as I come to write the third and final review I find myself at something of a loss. What can I say about Miklos Banffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy that I haven’t already said? Not a lot, it seems. It doesn’t help that They Were Divided is much shorter than the two preceding volumes. Indeed, while all three follow on, volumes one and two did feel, in some way, like separate entities. They dealt with markedly different stages in the lives of the main characters; and each unfolded at a different pace. This one, however, does not feel distinct; in fact, it feels odd that it stands alone.
As befitting the concluding volume of a series, the one thing that does stand out about They Were Divided is the increased atmosphere of decline and destruction hanging over it. As noted previously, the real title of the whole work is The Writing On The Wall and that makes most sense in relation to the book under review here. First of all, there is destruction on what I will call a local level i.e. amongst the inhabitants of the novel, within their families etc. There have been deaths in the preceding two volumes but there are more of them in They Were Divided and, unlike before, it is major characters that are struck down. There is, in the book, a very real sense of things coming to an end, of the end of an era, so to speak, and this means that it is the most moving of the three volumes.
In addition to the deaths of certain beloved characters there is also the prospect of large-scale death on an international level. The timespan of the trilogy is 1904 to 1914. I don’t think you have to be a historian to know what the significance of the date 1914 is. The reality of what is happening in the world outside of the communities we have been so focused on becomes more apparent in They Were Divided; it can no longer be ignored. Indeed, it was always the case that the narrative was moving towards destruction, towards, more specifically, war. Yet it is easy for the reader to lose sight of that, to put it to the back of your mind; it is easy to become so engrossed in what is happening between, and to, these charming, interesting characters and to therefore not recognise the full significance of what is taking place in the world-at-large. It’s a neat trick, because that is exactly the same mindset that the majority of the characters have; they are so taken up with their own dramas, their own fun and games, that they are unaware of just how quickly they are hurtling towards, well, extinction or certainly the end of life as they know it.
Now that I have read the entire thing my opinion of some of what came before this final instalment has altered somewhat. I loved the first volume, almost without reservation, but I was far less enamoured with the second. A few of those reservations, however, seem less serious upon reflection. The drop off in drama, the slowing of the pace in They Were Found Wanting now seems necessary, for an entire 1500 pages of the kind of intensity that They Were Counted provided would perhaps have been too much. Furthermore, Balint, who I previously called a non-entity, takes on something of a heroic edge by the end of They Were Divided. His simple-minded goodness, his strong values and sense of honour were always admirable, but not particularly interesting. However, he is one of the few, if not the only, character who is not so self-absorbed as to not see what is coming; and there is something, for me, incredibly moving about the idea of one man, surrounded by jovial but ignorant people, who has his eyes open and turned towards a world that is set to burn.
There was nothing to see but ice and snow, only ice and snow, a petrified world were there could be no life. Ice everywhere, like the frozen inferno of Dante’s seventh hell. Even the sky seemed carved from ice, clean, majestic…and implacable…and even the stars held no mercy.
in front rose the ink-black outline of the Matterhorn, seeming more than ever like a claw, Satan’s claw, reaching for the Heavens. The great peak was no longer a natural pyramid of rock but rather some fatal, razor-sharp milestone threatening death to the sky above – a milestone that pointed to the end of the world.
So, ultimately, despite its flaws [I still can’t accept the repetition], The Transylvanian Trilogy is a large-hearted, beautiful novel, which may not, contrary to the hype, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with War & Peace, but is well worth the considerable time that is required in order to read it.