Last Thursday I finished The Gold Coffin by Ferenc Mora. [when I say last Thursday, I really mean over a month ago, I was just too lazy to finish this review. Exams were just way too overwhelming, and so I turned towards binge-watching Sherlock and I got side-tracked, sorry!]
[this is not the prettiest cover I found, but since it’s a Hungarian novel, it was the only English version.]
I’m not gonna lie, this book took me a while to finish. It was 425 pages long, add to that my final exam stress and the fact that I read it in old Hungarian, I think I deserve an award.
Yes, you heard me right. I read the book in its original Hungarian version.
^^^ that’s how I felt when I realized what I was bound for ^^^
I don’t think I have mentioned it on here before, but I am Hungarian.
I speak Hungarian; I mostly grew up there, my whole family is from there. That wasn’t the problem.
Despite all that though, this book was the first serious book I’ve ever read in Hungarian. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for something like that but I managed to pull through.
Anyway, let’s get into it.
On the story:
Basically, the book is set in the Roman Empire, under the rule of Diocletianus. Since the book is written in third person, there is no official main character, but I think it’s safe to say that the story was mainly surrounding Quintipor, a slave to the emperor.
One of the reasons the book has such an impact towards the reader, I think, is because it’s written in third person. It allows the reader to know everything, while only certain characters know one or two parts of the truth at best. This was dramatic irony at its best.
Now, an important thing you have to know about this story is how the empire was structured at the time.
Because it was way too big for only one person to hold autonomous power over it, Diocletianus the emperor chose another person to half it with. This was Maximianus. Soon, they realized even that wasn’t enough. Diocletianus chose one more person to half his share with, and Maximianus chose one too.
Diocletianus was still the sole emperor, except he was leaving some people in charge of parts of the empire he couldn’t reach.
The story starts when Quintipor gets offered a higher position as a slave, now the official assistant-slave of the emperor.
Long story short, Quintipor falls in love with one of the vice-emperors’ daughter, Titanilla, and she vice versa. Obviously, A girl the equivalent of a princess and a slave can’t really be an “item,” so they need to keep it a secret.
Here’s the catch:
What only the emperor and a close friend knows is that Quintipor is actually the emperor’s son, his heir.
The emperor had given his son secretly away to be a slave when Quintipor was way too small to remember, to save his life.
Now that Quintipor was eighteen, the emperor was slowly trying to free him as a slave, and then eventually make him the next emperor.
With us, the readers, knowing all these added up to a lot of anxious and hilarious scenes in the book.
For example, while the two lovers are trying to hide that they even notice each other, the emperor is also trying to see if Quintipor has a liking for anyone, in case they could be his empress later on.
As great a scenes these situations can make, the story also has a sad and deep lining woven through it.
I think Ferenc Mora’s writing is one of the best I’ve ever seen, although sometimes bound to veer off into another direction, his emotion-evoking description and poignant humor make it a wonder to read.
Another thing I will mention is the Christians. Since this is set in the time of Roman rule, there is a lot of hate, prejudice, and massacres of Christians.
At the same time, though, it is also the period in history when Christianity was just on the brink of tipping over the scale of Roman gods.
It’s the ripening of a new religion, a new age, the tragedy of fate undone, star-crossed lovers, mistakes, mishaps, and miscommunication.
There’s so much humanity in the novel. It shows the imperfections of human individuals, and what happens when they join a group.
All in all, the book is fangirl worthy:
One scene of honorable mention is when Titanilla is sick and she asks her father, one of the vice-emperors, if she has a soul. Her father only laughs and says, “what a foolish thought to have! Of course you don’t have a soul. Souls are only able to be kept in sturdy, brave chests like mine, not women’s.”
Later, still not satisfied, Titanilla asks the empress, (aka Quintipor’s mother, although Titanilla doesn’t know that), if she has a soul.
And the empress, who has gone through sixteen years of pure, unfiltered anguish, says:
“If it hurts, little Tit, then yes.”
And Titanilla smiles and replies, “Good then, I have a soul.”
[since I don’t have the English version, this might not be the word-for-word translation of the scene, but you get the gist.]
Overall, I’m just so happy that the first two books I’ve read in this challenge have been so amazing. [also both based on mythology, lol.]
Another thing I wanna point out is the characters. Mora had such an incredible way of showing what characters had as strengths, and what their weaknesses were. He wasn’t afraid to show in characters who would normally be either the ultimate villain or the hero in the story, all sides of their souls.
I think that’s a leap not a lot of authors are willing to take.
The main character, Quintipor, is also not the typical male main character.
He is incredibly shy, obedient, passionate, sensitive, devoted, and dreamy.
The funny thing about the two, Quintipor and Titanilla, is that most of the time neither of them treated the other as a princess or a slave.
Sometimes, Titanilla would even call Quintipor the emperor, or a god.
When they did treat eachother as their ranks, however, it would only be when they were either angry at eachother or trying to irritate the other.
I feel like I’m gushing a lot about this book, but I can’t help it.
Just wait until you see my review on the next book, which I’ve started already, called The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
I’ve only gotten twenty pages of the book left, and I feel myself already changing. Is that even possible?
Also, the movie of the young writer, Goethe, is just so adorable: