Who am I to dispute the views of the reviewers to date?,
This review is from: Memoirs Of An Anti-Semite (New York Review Books) (Paperback)
Who am I to permit myself, as Stiassny might say in 'Skushno', the first of the five stories, to dispute the views of the reviewers to date? Von Rezzori's reach is encyclopaedic and his viewpoints deliberately balanced, yet it seems a brave thing to do, to craft a work of high quality fiction working towards and rotating around one of the most shameful, obscene and barbaric acts perpetrated by 20th century Europeans. We know what lit the Holocaust's match, and we know that many people of many nations on both sides of the war that followed actively or tacitly endorsed it; the territory is familiar from writers across the entire literary spectrum.
But what interests me particularly here is the construction of the style and the tone of von Rezzori's narrative. It puts me in mind of Walter Bernhard's and much of W G Sebald's work, and in particular - although from a somewhat different slant - Dan Jacobson's masterly and personal 'Hershel's Kingdom' which is not fiction; and Sebald, in a rather back-handed way, acknowledges a debt towards Jacobson at the end of 'Austerlitz'. 'Memoirs of an Anti-Semite' carries you along, effortlessly and fascinating, through some 60 years.
My only complaint, entirely subjective, is that I'd have preferred translations without American colloquialisms. They don't seem right to my ear, but I guess their intention might have been to stress the class, cultural and religious differences between the speakers of High and Low German. Otherwise, there is nothing I would add to or subtract from the paragraphs below by the professionals, these taken from the back cover of the 1983 UK Picador edition. (Regarding the latter I agree with Lost John that 'Pravda' in that edition does seem to have been mangled by careless typesetting.)
Here is a work that tackles - without reproof, without illusions and without shallow moral judgements; by turns, engaged and detached, funny & sad, tender and heartless; often in a tone of merciless self-flagellation, and always from the most oblique angle one can imagine - the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, and its correlative anti-Goyism, the double tragedy of banal misunderstanding that changed the face of Europe and the world.
These haunting stories portray history unwinding within a single skull, a cultivated often charming mind being betrayed by a single catastrophic flaw.
Hilary Spurling: The Evening Standard.
It is a taboo subject. Reading this book is like opening a drawer that has been locked for generations. It gives off a pungent, sharp, spicy smell. Its contents are unfamiliar, disturbing, brilliantly coloured and none the less real for having lain untouched for years.
New York Times.
Though we never escape from the theme of anti-Semitism, it is not what is uppermost in our minds when we turn the final pages. What we recall is the breathtaking richness of the history it recounts and the extraordinary way it makes time pass by.
History inhabits every page ... von Rezzori's brilliant, ironic, deeply disturbing tale never lets you off easily: it presents the inadmissible evidence of anti-Semitism in a literary cross-examination of consciousness.