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Uncle Rudolf [Hardcover]

Paul Bailey
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Sep 2002

The haunting new novel from Paul Bailey, whose work has been short-listed twice for the Booker prize.

At the age of 70, Andrew Peters suddenly finds himself speaking in the language he has not used since childhood, when he came to live with his doting Uncle Rudolf . Rudolf transformed Andrew's world. Looking back across the years, Andrew remembers the captivating man who rescued him in 1937 from a likely death in fascist Romania. A sublimely gifted lyric tenor, Rudolf’s talent had exiled him from his native land, leading him to Paris, Vienna and London, where he became a much-loved star in operetta. He turns all his hopes and sardonic humour upon Andrew, and the gauche child from a remote country town becomes what Rudolf wants him to be – an English gentleman.

Vivid, often hilarious stories of Rudolf's brilliant but blighted career and of his eccentric household are intertwined with the slow unfolding of the secrets that have shadowed Andrew's otherwise happy life. Told in matchless prose, this deeply moving novel captures a vanished epoch and a way of life with exquisite tact and restraint.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (2 Sep 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841157589
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841157580
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13.4 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 780,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

One of the post-war English literary greats, Paul Bailey is esteemed for the piercing finesse of his writing. His new novel Uncle Rudolf exemplifies that trait: it packs a telling and surprising emotional punch, despite its apparent slightness. The narrator is a partly Jewish Romanian, Andrew Peters, looking back on his colourful life. The eponymous hero is the narrator's opera-singing uncle, who rescued the young Peters from proto-Nazi Eastern Europe, and brought him to England. As Peters regards his early years by the Danube we get to see a picture of old mittel Europe through the exile's nostalgic and rhapsodic eyes:
Why was I thinking of pickled vegetables--of cauliflower and carrots; of green and red peppers; of radishes and red cabbage? I hadn't eaten the dish in a lifetime... and then, with an involuntary cry of anguish, and clear blue sky, I saw my mother and me tickling my father, who is pretending to be asleep on the grass.
Poignant stuff, in itself. But Bailey/Andrews' intent isn't merely to paint a cameo portrait of Yiddish life, it's also to tell the story of how the stranger becomes the Englishman, and how intellectual and artistic values can be translated across borders.

As the scene shifts from Vienna to London to the opera houses of the world, what abides is the wit and life force of Uncle Rudolf and his bemused coterie of exiles: "He spoke in French, and very occasionally said something in his native Polish, but there was one English word, and one only, that he loved. It was "belly". He would pat his stomach and say "Mon belly", and then he'd laugh out loud. "Mon belly, Monsieur Petrescu. C'est enorme." This is a charming, exquisite, uplifting novel. --Sean Thomas

Review

‘An exquisitely composed novel of doubleness, dubeity and prolonged protected silences.’ The Guardian

‘The underlying story is sad – harrowing, indeed – but there is spicy humour here too. Andrew himself is an appealing narrator: honest, troubled, perceptive. It is the clarity of his vision that gives the novel its crisp and satisfying accuracy, and makes it one of Paul Bailey’s best books.’ Independent

Praise for Paul Bailey
'He has a rare feeling for language and an understanding of character which few can rival.' Selina Hastings, Daily Telegraph

On KITTY AND VIRGIL:
'A book the depth and beauty of which it is hard to do justice in the language of criticism and dissection.' Alex Clark, TLS

On OLD SOLDIERS:
'Old Soldiers has taken root in my head. It's a spare, intense, elliptical novel, beautifully and cunningly set in a London which is at once drawn from Dickens and bang up-to-date.' Jonathan Raban, Sunday Times

On GABRIEL’S LAMENT:
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize

'A magnificent novel, moving, eccentric and unforgettable.' Daily Telegraph

On PETER SMART’S CONFESSIONS:
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize

'Rich in characters, situations, jokes and comic repartee. It's a fiendishly clever and funny book.' Anthony Thwaite, Observer


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Customer Reviews

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4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A subtle story of exiles from fascist Romania 5 Sep 2010
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Andrew Peterson was born Andrei Petrescu in Romania, and he tells his story at the age of 70. His maternal grandfather was Jewish, and that is enough to imperil the family in 1937 Romania when Codreanu, the founder of the antisemitic Iron Guard, was on the ascendant and violence was already on the rampage. Andrei's father decided to send his seven year old son to England to be looked after by his paternal uncle Rudolf Peterson (born Rudi Petrescu), who had made a name for himself there and in other European capitals as a singer in operettas. Rudolf had seen some time ago that how Romania was becoming increasingly fascist, had become a voluntary exile in London, and had urged his brother and sister-in-law - in vain - to leave "the beastly country" of their birth. (The miasma of antisemitism in Romania had not even disappeared when Andrew revisited his ancestral home after 1989.)

Andrew never saw his parents again, and though he was very comfortable with his beloved Uncle Rudolf in the day-time, his dreams at night were haunted by his absent parents. Rudolf loved his nephew dearly, worked hard to turn him into an Englishman, and tried to protect him from suffering - so it is not until Andrew is eighteen that he learnt of the fate of his parents.

Much of the book, as its title suggests, is a rich portrait of the uncle who was the key figure in Andrew's life: of his ambitions and disappointments, of his relationships with a number of women, of his generosity, of his charismatic, amusing and carefree exterior covering up a deeper melancholia, grief, anger and self-contempt.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BEGUILING 1 Sep 2013
Format:Paperback
What begins as a ripe evocation of a beloved uncle seen larger than life unfolds through grand adventures, comic turns, romantic interludes to sadder and more shopworn realities. This is an elegant and moving novel. Paul Bailey is a master.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, short and sweet 27 April 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Having previously enjoyed reading a Paul Bailey book, i was looking forward to this book and i wasn't disappointed. It was a joy to read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Uncle Rudolph by Paul Bailey 23 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Whilst browsing through books I came across the author. I was intrigued by the range of titles and subjects.
The narrative and subject was sad and amusing.I read it in just three sittings.
I look forward to my next purchase by Paul Bailey
Les Archer
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A subtle story of exile from fascist Romania 5 Sep 2010
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Andrew Peterson was born Andrei Petrescu in Romania, and he tells his story at the age of 70. His maternal grandfather was Jewish, and that is enough to imperil the family in 1937 Romania when Codreanu, the founder of the antisemitic Iron Guard, was on the ascendant and violence was already on the rampage. Andrei's father decided to send his seven year old son to England to be looked after by his paternal uncle Rudolf Peterson (born Rudi Petrescu), who had made a name for himself there and in other European capitals as a singer in operettas. Rudolf had seen some time ago that how Romania was becoming increasingly fascist, had become a voluntary exile in London, and had urged his brother and sister-in-law - in vain - to leave "the beastly country" of their birth. (The miasma of antisemitism in Romania had not even disappeared when Andrew revisited his ancestral home after 1989.)

Andrew never saw his parents again, and though he was very comfortable with his beloved Uncle Rudolf in the day-time, his dreams at night were haunted by his absent parents. Rudolf loved his nephew dearly, worked hard to turn him into an Englishman, and tried to protect him from suffering - so it is not until Andrew is eighteen that he learnt of the fate of his parents.

Much of the book, as its title suggests, is a rich portrait of the uncle who was the key figure in Andrew's life: of his ambitions and disappointments, of his relationships with a number of women, of his generosity, of his charismatic, amusing and carefree exterior covering up a deeper melancholia, grief, anger and self-contempt. Back in the 1920s he had ignored the urging of his teachers (the historical figures of Jean de Reszke and Georges Enescu) to aim higher than operettas: he had the talent to become a famous singer in grand opera. In time - too late to change course - he had himself come to despise operettas, whose frivolity and easy sentimentalism had been so enjoyed in Vienna, Bucharest and Budapest "by those who brought about Europe's destruction".

The novel moves backwards and forwards in time. What happened to Andrew's parents is touched on several times; and the full story, when it comes near the end of the novel, is intensely moving.

A subtle story interweaving the personal, the cultural and the political.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing. 21 Dec 2004
By algo41 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
After reading Bailey's "Kitty and Virgil" and "Gabriel's Lament", I found this novel a total disappointment. I suppose it was intended to be charming and sad. To me, it was a slight book (in impact as well as length) which relies on interesting plot devices to make the story readable.
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