20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
mixed feelings, 9 Jan 2011
De Waal writes in his prologue that he doesn't "want to get into the sepia saga business, writing up some elegiac Mitteleuropa narrative of loss" and follows this with a slap at Bruce Chatwin. But, perhaps inevitably, this is precisely the reigning tone of much of the book. The word "LOSS," for heaven's sake, is proclaimed in the book's subtitle (U.S. edition)! (In spite of the author's seemingly modest manner, a certain disagreeable contemptuousness and snobbishness is evident elsewhere in the narrative, directed, for example towards the tacky collectors of things Japanese whom de Waal contrasts with his altogether superior Uncle Iggie.) And the whole netsuke-in-the-pocket thing strikes me as overdone and somewhat contrived and precious.
Interestingly, the Dictionnaire Marcel Proust interprets the depiction of the author's great-great uncle Charles in Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party as the coming-out of Renoir's until-then latent anti-Semitism - a reading of the painting that de Waal doesn't mention.
The section on the German invasion of Vienna in 1938 is truly harrowing, and the atmosphere of terror is unforgettably rendered. It's deepest black. No sepia there.
The editors should have been more assiduous in checking up on the German. "Liebestod" (p. 133) does not mean "love of death." Thomas Mann's "Gedanken im Kriege" doesn't mean "Thanks for War" (p. 181) but "Thoughts in Wartime." Et cetera.