Top positive review
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on 21 June 2017
This short novella paints an exquisite portrait of the collector. Utz is a member of the Czech minor nobility who during the twentieth century has inherited and then acquired many fine pieces of Meissen porcelain. Some of them are described in intricate detail, reflecting the Rococo world in which they were created.
The acquisition and preservation of such a collection in Czechoslovakia during the two world wars (where Nazis might see them as spoils of war in WW2) and during the post-war Communist regime (in which art should not be kept in private hands but as assets of the people) carries great risk.
Utz himself is a shadowy figure and he is seen often as others see and report him, through the eyes of his paleontologist friend, Dr Orlik, the retired operatic diva who lives in an apartment in the same building as Utz, a slightly seedy art dealer from New York and an unnamed writer who comes to interview Utz. However, most enigmatic of all is Marta, Utz’s peasant-born retainer.
The narration is beautifully concise and had me thinking about the art of porcelain (amazed to learn that porcelain and pork have the same root as words) and its production and cultural importance.
The book though, is enigmatic, and the Utz we initially see is not the same as the one we see at the end.
I have enjoyed reading this book and one read through may not be enough to get was Bruce Chatwin was trying to convey.