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The Snows of Yesteryear (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – 7 May 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Main edition (7 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590172817
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590172810
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2 x 20.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 392,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Gregor von Rezzori (1914-1998) studied at the University of Vienna and for a time lived in Bucharest. Von Rezzori's books include Tales from Maghrebinia, Oedipus Triumphs at Stalingrad, The Hussar, The Death of My Brother Abel, and Anecdotage. He lived with his wife in a village near Florence, Italy, until his death. His Memoirs of an Anti-Semite was reissued by NYRB Classics in 2007.

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of many novels, including The Book of Evidence, The Untouchable, and Eclipse. Banville's novel The Sea was awarded the 2005 Man Booker Prize. On occasion he writes under the pen name Benjamin Black.


Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
Another book i found in a bargain bin, left unread for years, and now think is a classic. It's a memoir of the author's childhood and early youth in Eastern Europe, not too promising an idea, perhaps, but it works out to be a powerful read. Von Rezzori was born i think during or just after the First World War, a turning point; one of his themes is how the old, cultured world of Europe, a world of individuals and vivid life, broke apart and slowly became the machine-age we now so miserably inhabit. His parents are eccentric and, in their terrible way, magnificent, and certainly couldn't easily exist in our age. i finished this nostalgic for the vanished world, the world of Proust (who likewise, dying just after WWI, writes of a world that is dying), of larger, stranger humanity, realer than ours.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this essentially autobiographical volume immediately after An Ermine in Czernopol and Memoirs of an Anti-Semite. Those are Von Rezzori's two novels touching on Czernovitz (modern day Chernivtsi, Ukraine), the city in which he spent his childhood. Czernovitz was, as it remains, the principal city of Bukovina, but since the First World War Bukovina has had a chequered history, and that is a source of much of the interest in this book and the two novels.

Pre-WW1, Bukovina was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and it was for that reason that Von Rezzori's family - German speaking Austrians - were there. After the war, Bukovina became a part of the kingdom of Romania, but not for long. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact awarded the region to the Soviet Union following the joint German-Soviet advance on Poland in 1939, but Romania took it back as part of the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. The Red Army regained control in 1943-44 and northern Bukovina, encompassing Chernivtsi, was from 1947 formally a part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and since 1991 of independent Ukraine.

The politico-geographic situation of Bukovina, so very much the borderland between various countries and empires, meant that in pre-Soviet times many different language groups dwelt there, each with their different cultural traditions.
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Format: Paperback
A beautiful, evocative book, suffused with the long-passed codes of the world in which it was set, but also with the timelessness of recalled childhood memories. It does remind me of Proust in the richness of the descriptions, both of the physical and the social and emotional setting. Von Rezzori managed to make a beautiful thing out of his own memories of "anti-semitism"; this has fewer Jews and less anti-semitism, but is still full of the polyglot complexity of the Bukovina. I loved this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9cc18a80) out of 5 stars 23 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cc84444) out of 5 stars Von Rezzori is an excellent prose stylist. 12 Feb. 1998
By Avid Hiker - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is an exceptional book. Everyone in von Rezzori's family is fascinating--including his governess, who was a friend of Mark Twain. The Bukovina, where the author grew up, is remote, strange, and beautiful. The politics of the period are byzantine, yet von Rezzori clarifies beautifully. His writing style is fresh, vivid, easy. He has a cosmopolitan vocabulary. If you like this book, definitely read his MEMOIRS OF AN ANTI-SEMITE, also very fine.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cc949fc) out of 5 stars Tales of displacement 28 Jun. 2011
By R. M. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In his Introduction to this edition, John Banville writes that THE SNOWS OF YESTERYEAR "is a masterpiece in that rare genre that might be classed as incidental autobiography." Banville compares the book with Nabokov's "Speak, Memory" - high praise, indeed. I won't suggest that THE SNOWS OF YESTERYEAR is quite on the same plane as "Speak, Memory", but SNOWS definitely is worth reading.

Two different aspects of the book make it of special interest. The first has to do with the historical and social milieu in which the author lived his early years, the years covered by THE SNOWS OF YESTERYEAR. Gregor von Rezzori was born in 1914 in Czernowitz, then the capital of the Bukovina, which in turn was one of the autonomous former crown lands of the House of Habsburg and, as such, part of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy. Thus, his formative years coincided with what he calls the "truce between two phases of the European suicide" (i.e, 1919-1939) and the collapse of the bourgeois culture of Mitteleuropa founded on the pillars of property and learning. Rezzori's account of that milieu and those years is among the richer and more rewarding that I have read.

The other noteworthy aspect of the book consists of the family figures around whom he structures his memoir: his mother, father, and sister, and his nanny and his governess. Each of them - at least as portrayed by Rezzori - is a memorable figure. Even works of fiction rarely feature a quintet of such distinctive characters.

To my mind the most memorable (though it is a close call) is Rezzori's father, who regarded himself as a Habsburg aristocrat through and through (the Rezzori family came from Sicily, at a time when it still belonged to the Holy Roman Empire). By profession, he was an architect and art historian, whose work responsibilities involved overseeing the monasteries of the Bukovina as a civil servant. By avocation, he was a hunter, and some of Rezzori's anecdotes are set in the dense forests of the Carpathians, hunting with his father. Although Rezzori elder was a strident anti-Semite and a social conservative, he was not a supporter of Hitler. Shortly after Hitler was appointed Chancellor, he drew his son's attention to a magazine article, replete with pictures of the new Führer, and commented: "It's all very fine and well, Germany rises once more. But have a look at this fellow: I wouldn't hire him as a stable boy!" His political ethos was from the snows of yesteryear, amongst the Habsburgs. "[H]e counted Romanians (after Czechs and Poles) among the body-strippers of the corpse of the defunct Dual Monarchy. Russians, Poles and Ruthenians were mere colonial populations. He saw himself as a leftover functionary of a liquidated empire. `We have been left here as a kind of cultural fertilizer,' was one of his favorite sayings." He stayed away from his daughter when she was dying of Hodgson's disease and he refused to summon his son to his own deathbed; those decisions were "based on the sober conviction that dying is a strictly private matter that cannot be shared with anyone."

(A quick word about Rezzori's governess, a woman born in Pomerania in the 1860's and clearly a major influence in his life. Rezzori gives her name as Lina Strauss and he writes that in the 1890s she had been the "lady companion" of Mark Twain during his years in Florence (at a time long before the death of Twain's beloved wife, Livy). Curiously, in neither my Mark Twain library (which, admittedly, is hardly comprehensive) nor on the Internet can I find any reference to a Lina Strauss as a companion of Twain or a member of the Twain household. If anyone has information to support the association, I would appreciate learning of it either by a comment or by e-mail.)

The book closes with a touching epilogue, dealing with Rezzori's visit in 1989 to Czernowitz (by then re-named Chernovtsy and within the borders of the Ukraine) for the first time in 53 years. After so much effort trying to reconstruct and re-inhabit the past, his visit to the city of his birth and boyhood proved to be another bittersweet exemplification of Thomas Wolfe's adage that you can't go home again. Rezzori published this memoir in 1989. He died in 1998.

Given my own fascination for the Habsburg Empire and Mitteleuropa, I was a natural reader for THE SNOWS OF YESTERYEAR. Nonetheless, at times it dragged, even for me. Rezzori is prone to over-write and over-analyze. Appropriate perhaps for a chronicler of a lost empire, he can be somewhat fusty and ornate in his prose. But for the most part he is clear-headed and unsentimental. What pervades THE SNOWS OF YESTERYEAR is not nostalgia so much as displacement.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cb33edc) out of 5 stars Brilliant, evocative memoir 11 Nov. 2005
By Erik Wuttke - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Gregor Von Rezzori has quickly become a favorite writer and his works, companions in my life journey. The Snows of Yesteryear is a stylized memoir that reads much more like fiction. It is a non-linear memoir that has little regard to time or place as Rezzori jumps wherever his thoughts and reminiscences lead him. This jumping around leads to a lack of clarity and unevenness that at times hurt the overall work, however these relatively rare moments are offset by beautifully painful passages that evoke not only lost moments in his life, but in the readers as well. These moments are the heart of Von Rezzori's talent, at his best he can distill a fragment of time, or a time period down to its existential core, giving the reader that joyous, yet painful realization of a precious moment and the pain of its passing... and subsequently our passing as well.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cb33bd0) out of 5 stars Enchanting 19 Sept. 2014
By Luca Graziuso and Marina Ross - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If "Memoirs of an Anti-Semite" had established Gregor von Rezzori's reputation as one of the world's great prose stylist, "The Snows of Yesteryear" further cements this reputation. However this book is a work of non-fiction whereas "Memoirs" was fiction. Not to be feared, Rezzori's nonfiction is all the more replete with allure and magic of storytelling.
The Snows of Yesteryear brings back in glowing colors and radiant light a Central European world that vanished in 1938: the town houses and country estates, the Vienna apartments and the forest preserves of the old Austro-Hungarian aristocracy into which Rezzori was born. The first of the five section of the book is devoted to Cassandra, the weirdly costumed peasant who was Rezzori's wet nurse and nanny, an amazing comic figure who taught him "a salad of Armanian-German-Ruthenian-Polish-Hungarian-Turkish and Yiddish..".and who watched fiercely and hilariously over his fantasy-laden childhood.
Cassandra was in every way a contrast to his mother, the subject of the second section, a neurasthenic, stormy-tempered woman of exquisite beauty and bearing, the "prototype of a lady" who, after much drama and pain, left Rezzori's father, an architectural historian whose imaginative life was wholly absorbed by the world of hunting and shooting.
His father, a bright-natured, old-fashioned, anti-Semitic gentleman was ever bemused by his estranged, unhappy consort, and Rezzori's portrait of him forms a brilliant centerpiece to the book.
The fourth section concerns Rezzori's marvelous older sister, who died tragically when only 21 and whose influence on the author was profound, permanent and deeply ambiguous.
Last comes the inimitable and extraordinary governess Miss Lina Strauss, a once friend of Mark Twain, who was imported to teach young Rezzori as she had done his mother.
The epilogue is a thing of rare beauty: Gregor von Rezzori offers a haunting account of his visit to Czernowitz 53 years after his departure...
In giving us five superb portraits with the greatest psychological subtlety, Rezzori also paints a group picture that is dazzling in its social detail, gripping in its dramatic tension and gloriously evocative of a fascinating bygone world.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cb33f30) out of 5 stars A vanished culture 26 Oct. 2006
By An admirer of Saul - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Rezorri writes of the five people who shaped his life and were entwined with the life and culture of Bukovinia;a country that was a crossroads for east and west;that had absorbed all the mish mash of languages and customs that had passed through and decided to stay. Rezorris family found themselves there at the tail end of the Hapsburg empire of which Bukovinia was part.His memoirs start between the first and second world wars;Bukovinia being ceded to Romania,then later to Soviet Russia.Always in the background is the sad knowledge that Bukovinia,with its gypsies,jews,colonials and uniqueness,is doomed by politics.If not Hitler,then Stalin.It made no difference.

Rezorri returns to his old home and finds the vibrancy and life has been squeezed out of the place;made sterile by the drabness of communism after being exterminated in the war.The racial tensions and diversity of customs and languages that gave Bukovinia its vibrancy,wiped out for some skewed political ideal.It makes you realize that-as long as it doesn't boil over into holocaust-racial and social frictions are part of what makes humanity click.

A great book;many of the anecdotes and reflections feature in arguably Rezorris greatest work,'The death of my brother Abel'.
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