Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Snows of Yesteryear by Gregor Von Rezzori (2008, New York Review of Books Edition, introduced by John Banville)

Gregor Von Rezzori (1914 to 1998, born Czarnowitz, Bukouina- you can find background information on him in my prior posts on his novels) is the author of two great novels, Memoirs of an Anti-Semite and An Ermine in Crernopol.  Memoirs of an Anti-Semite is one of the crowning achievements of the European literary tradition.   Donald Keene, the pioneering translator of the Japanese novel into English has said the novel is essentially a European art form.  Von Rezzori, like numerous other writers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, transcended national alliances.  

The Snows of Yesteryear, translated into elegant English by H. F. Broch de Rotherman with an illuminating  introduction by John Banville, is Von Rezzori's memoirs.  It is not wrong to see it as another elegy to the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Lately I have been getting into writers from the Empire and it must have been a magic place to inspire such love.

The memoir is organized around portraits of five people very important to Von Rezzori.  He begins with an account of a long time family servant, Cassandra.  The Von Rezzori family were aristocrats, with a bit of tarnish, Cassandra was an "earth mother" sort.  Illiterate, she inspired Von Rezzori with her many folk tales.  There are also chapters on his mother and father.  Both are seriously flawed individuals.  His father's only real passion seems to have been hunting.  He was a virulent Anti-Semite, an unfaithful husband, and an emotionionally remote father.  He and his wife lived apart much of the time.  His mother was what would have once been called "very high strung".  His sister, she died at thirty, plays a large part in the memoirs.  Her character is harder to discern, maybe because Von Rezzori was perhaps closer to her so his portrayal of her is more open ended.  The final chapter is devoted to Bunchy, a long time family governess.

The Snows of Yesteryear is also a portrait of life in the empire.  There is an almost Proustian quality to Von Rezzori's reflections.

First read Memoirs of an Anti-Semite, I hope to reread it soon, then An Ermine in Czernopol then read the memoirs.  You need to experience the greatest of his fiction to truly appreciate The Snows of Yesterday.

I commend The New York Review of Books for publishing three of his books and hope more will be coming. 

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