Naturally, I appreciate any and all reviews, but reviews of this quality serve to remind me that perhaps, just perhaps, writing fiction is worthwhile after all. It goes without saying that I appreciate the the time and effort Mr. Orr has invested into this review.
The following is an excerpt from S.K.'s review.
Part historical novel and part philosophical treatise, The City of Earthly Desire is a look at the lives of several people connected to post-Communist Hungary and their relationship to the concept of freedom, specifically the kind of “freedom” that can turn virtues into vices.
The novel follows a Hungarian artist, Reinhardt Drixler, and his son Bela through decades of personal and cultural turmoil. It is a vivid slice of Cold War-era history charged with an underlying mythic archetype.
Young Bela, the book’s protagonist, is an immature and mercurial fellow who strikes up a friendship with worldly Anthony Vergil while trying to find his way in the world. This friendship becomes Faustian in its undertones, with Verge playing a cavalier yet tragic Mephistopholes.
Berger’s layered descriptions of the grimy paths down which Verge leads Bela crackle with authenticity. Older readers like myself wince at the accuracy and poignancy of scenes where a character stands on the precipice of ruin and makes a choice with eternal consequences in an offhand way. It’s a testament to Berger’s power as a writer and his skills at character development that the reader can become so invested in the characters who populate this novel.
The City of Earthly Desire explores many themes, including the human penchant for drawing gossamer distinctions between art and pornography, between good and evil, between need and desire. But the main theme I identified was almost Dickensian in its scope and focus, a theme most easily described as a dilemma. In symbolic terms, here is the dilemma, in my own words:
I invite you to read the rest here.