Among the many memoirs I have read this is one of the most beautiful and meaningful Gregor Von Rezzori has uncanny ability to create beautiful metaphors that convey a sense of both place and history It is this that sets his memoir apart from the others The memoir is subtitled portraits for an autobiography Thus Von Rezzori structures the memoir around the members of his family with chapters titled simply The Mother , The Father , and The Sister These are his portraits and it is only w Among the many memoirs I have read this is one of the most beautiful and meaningful Gregor Von Rezzori has uncanny ability to create beautiful metaphors that convey a sense of both place and history It is this that sets his memoir apart from the others The memoir is subtitled portraits for an autobiography Thus Von Rezzori structures the memoir around the members of his family with chapters titled simply The Mother , The Father , and The Sister These are his portraits and it is only when he wrote two chapters about people close to him as family, but not related, that he give them names, Cassandra and Bunchy these being the childhood appellations by which they were known The result of this organization by family portrait is a chronological mosaic made up of vignettes melded together by his memory.The memoir ends with the disappearance of his beloved homeland with the onset of the second world war Stemming from the aftermath of the Great War this provides a historical context for his personal story Thus the themes of the memoir are under girded with the sense of a world destroyed, collapsed, and faded into an age that becomes his yesteryear Von Rezzori describes them metaphorically in the introduction to The Mother The mermaid is blind her world has turned to rubbish The chest contains the tinsel of a forgotten carnival of long ago And the mermaid herself is rotting p 55 The expectations that were so vivid and bold when he was young become the golden mists of the past Yet amidst this story of decline there is much humor and lovely details, for the author shared the Rabelaisian exuberance of moments with his father, the pride taken in learning how to hunt, and the sweet, if rare, moments when his Mother showered him with all the love that she had hidden from him through her habitual neglect of her family He also shares intimate moments with his sister, describing their similarities and differences I envied her for being our father s favorite she despised the blind infatuation my mother showed me, suffered maternal injustices with mute pride and devalued he mother s preference in my own eyes She was a graceful girl, when I was a small oaf she was a precociously exemplary young lady whil I was still a lout p 204 The memoir ends with a short epilogue where, among other things, the adult Gregor Von Rezzori who become an accomplished journalist, media personality, and author shares his personal return to his birthplace of Czernowitz and found that it wasn t the Czernowitz whose vision I had carried in me for half a century He found like so many who grow up and leave their home of birth that you literally cannot go home again for the place you left is different than the myth your mind has created and hidden by the mists of time The story of this memoir is ultimately one of dissolution of both an idea and an ideal It is memorable for the beauty and love that was experienced by this often lonely man It is this that shines through and creates a glowing memoir of a yesterday that will remain forever impressed upon all who read it I try to never say Proustian in a review because it really means hey, I ve read Proust which is a laudable achievement worthy of public proclamation but a generally vague and misleading element in a literary review Rezzori s Snows is a look back, look for and look out for what are memories are and what we let them do to us that s Proust like His language prose is remarkably erudite and complex but never desultory that s Proust like too Rezzori draws with words, makes music with wor I try to never say Proustian in a review because it really means hey, I ve read Proust which is a laudable achievement worthy of public proclamation but a generally vague and misleading element in a literary review Rezzori s Snows is a look back, look for and look out for what are memories are and what we let them do to us that s Proust like His language prose is remarkably erudite and complex but never desultory that s Proust like too Rezzori draws with words, makes music with words and contemplates how words construct thoughts again much like the work of Proust But where Rezzori is unique is that he never is reduced to neurotic coiled reflection that seems largely onanistic that is very un Proust like Rezzori has an amazing insight to the formation of human characteristics and social interaction that rivals Stendhal but unlike Stendhal s romantic and purely literary leanings it s art history that informs Rezzori s insights He paints with words aware of style in every stroke and in great respect of his audience If you are interested in reading about how a family lives and dies in post Trianon eastern Europe you won t do much better than this Illuminated by the same crepuscular glow that brings Schulz s Drohobych out of the darkness and impermanence of temporary Poland, Rezzori s Czernowitz flickers on the edge of memorial non beingness with arresting dalliance There s no need to romanticize such memories when their foundation isirreal than any rainbow streak of grease that populated Proust s tea cups If you subscribe to the notion that the greatest generations of humans probably came and went around the time of the Second World War this little giant of a beautifully packaged NYRB short novel will leave you pleasantly unchanged and better informed It is sort of Proustian About 2 years ago I read Gregor von Rezzori s novel Memoirs of an Anti Semite , and in my review wondered aloud about how much was fiction and how much was autobiography It was partly to find out that I read this book In answer to my question, it seems antisemitism was a characteristic of the author s father rather than the author himself.This is an unusual, and at times very moving, autobiography, structured around 5 people who played a formative part in the author s childhood Each gets the About 2 years ago I read Gregor von Rezzori s novel Memoirs of an Anti Semite , and in my review wondered aloud about how much was fiction and how much was autobiography It was partly to find out that I read this book In answer to my question, it seems antisemitism was a characteristic of the author s father rather than the author himself.This is an unusual, and at times very moving, autobiography, structured around 5 people who played a formative part in the author s childhood Each gets their own chapter the author s mother, father, and sister plus Cassandra , an illiterate Carpathian peasant who was the author s childhood nanny, and Bunchy , a Pomeranian woman who was his governess during his adolescent years.Rezzori was born in 1914 and grew up in the city of Czernowitz now Chernivtsi where his father had been an official of the Austrian government During the author s lifetime the city was successively part of Austria, Romania, the USSR, and Ukraine, and his sense of dislocation forms an important part of the book After the collapse of the Dual Monarchy the family still considered themselves socially and culturally superior to the other nationalities in Bukovina, but were also despised by the new Romanian authorities, as members of an ethnic minority of suspect loyalty Nor were the family accepted as true Germans, as the author noticed when he was sent to school in Austria it pleased the rulers of that country Romania at the time to consider me an alien interloper, while for my Austrian school mates I was but a Balkanic gypsy from the remotest southeastern backwoods The untainted Germanness extolled by Hauff and Schnorr von Carolsfeld was denied me forever All of us have our idiosyncrasies but the author s family scored unusually high on eccentricity This was particularly true of his parents His mother was neurotic and controlling, embittered by the fact that in her time and place the role of wife and mother was tightly circumscribed His father struck me as something of a contrarian, and as someone who would have fitted better into the world of about a century before his time He considered himself an Austrian but become a loyal citizen of Romania, and despite being an anti Semite and a German nationalist he opposed the Nazis it s all set out in the book His escape from the world was to develop an obsession with hunting In one passage Rezzori describes his parents Our parents were odd and off center, each in his or her own peculiar way, each in his or her own wrongheadedness, the cause and origin of which could be found in their quixotic reaction to an out of joint world Their obsessions our mother s anxiety whipped, guilt ridden sense of duty and our father s blindly passionate escape into his mania for hunting were specific responses to circumstances that in no way fitted their upbringing, their existential concepts and expectations, even less their dispositions Rezzori was an acute observer of others, and the translation I read suggests the original book was beautifully written Some of my favourite sections were those where the author accompanied his father on hunting expeditions, simply because of the marvellously evocative descriptions of the Carpathian countryside of a century ago It s gone now, along with the multi ethnic nature of the region Rezzori lived until 1998, and with the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 he was able to visit his hometown for the first time since 1936, which event he describes in an Epilogue The visit was, of course, a bittersweet one Essentially this book is a series of portraits of Rezzori s family and two most intimate nurses governesses, and their lives during the two World Wars and the time in between, when their home city of Czernowitz was caught in the post collapse of the Austro Hungarian Empire, when it was handed over and over again between Romanian, German, and Russian rule The people of the Bukovina were basically in the hands of whatever army happened to be roaming through the land at the time, and eventually Essentially this book is a series of portraits of Rezzori s family and two most intimate nurses governesses, and their lives during the two World Wars and the time in between, when their home city of Czernowitz was caught in the post collapse of the Austro Hungarian Empire, when it was handed over and over again between Romanian, German, and Russian rule The people of the Bukovina were basically in the hands of whatever army happened to be roaming through the land at the time, and eventually the whole identity of the region seemingly vanished There are many parallels throughout the story of the dissipation of the empire and the disintegration of the family, but what this book did so well, and so brilliantly, was elucidate that strange, mythological period of adolescence and early childhood, when we, at the time, are experiencing such vivid and lasting impressions but do not yet have the faculty to express what they mean, even to ourselves, while all the while our individuality and personality are being formed by these same occurences One can t help but draw the comparison of lost empire lost childhood, but there isgoing on here than that A melancholy nostalgia, a dry and absurd humor, intimate emotional observation, and a sense of something irrevocable that we all seem to experience when looking back at our own lives are what this book succeeds in communicating Perhaps only Speak, Memory has come so close to illustrating those twilight years But Rezzori s prose iscentered in the emotional, while Nabokov is solidly discoursing through the intellect As far as memoirs of childhood go, I can t say yet which I prefer But if you enjoyed Speak, Memory definitely give this a go.Some favorite parts Cassandra making the snow flowers which inevitably dissolve in time the image and detail of the sinking toy ship which is referenced throughout his father dragging a dead, bloody boar through his mother s snobby, aristocratic social gatherings all the descriptions of the gardens, the roads into the wilderness, the ecstatic recollection of the weather and natural surroundings of the Bukovina and how that was reflected in the people There is so much here to sift through, I will certainly reread this at some point Every time there was a mention of the relatively contemporary world, i.e late 20th century, I was knocked out of my reading reverie and made to realize this was actually published in 1989 The writing, the sensibility, the everything about it is so cultured and refined and smart and of a piece with what I guess is late modernism, that it seemed Rezzori must have been a contemporary of Musil This is certainly not a complaint, as the writing is so graceful and elegant, but also honest and sensua Every time there was a mention of the relatively contemporary world, i.e late 20th century, I was knocked out of my reading reverie and made to realize this was actually published in 1989 The writing, the sensibility, the everything about it is so cultured and refined and smart and of a piece with what I guess is late modernism, that it seemed Rezzori must have been a contemporary of Musil This is certainly not a complaint, as the writing is so graceful and elegant, but also honest and sensual and stunningly visual I enjoyed it thoroughly While it portrays in detail a large convulsive world, a vanished world that morphed into the world that morphed into our own morphing world, it is a very personal and intimate memoir as portrayed through five individuals governess, mother, father, sister, tutor and one bewildering region Bukovina that shaped the author s world This memoir gives us Rezzori s childhood through his descriptions of 5 people His mother, a crazy, neurotic woman who never really grew up his father, a Trump like, bigoted narcissist who thought of nothing but his own needs his sister, 4 years older, a very self assured person who died at the age of 22, and his two most important influences Cassandra, a peasant woman who cared for him as a very young child, and Bunchy, a teacher governess who came into their lives at just the right time Hi This memoir gives us Rezzori s childhood through his descriptions of 5 people His mother, a crazy, neurotic woman who never really grew up his father, a Trump like, bigoted narcissist who thought of nothing but his own needs his sister, 4 years older, a very self assured person who died at the age of 22, and his two most important influences Cassandra, a peasant woman who cared for him as a very young child, and Bunchy, a teacher governess who came into their lives at just the right time His love for these two women shines on every page His family, not so much This all took place between the two World Wars in Austro Hungary, when the family was essentially displaced Beautifully written I love the extravagant, dreamy cocktail of Mitteleuropa This giant clash, recombination, alchemy of many peoples, cultures, classes all sloshed together in the first half of the 20th Century when so much was going on If this interests you try The Island of Second Sight, too It s culture like a Picasso painting, exactly what the Blood Soil types were so afraid of, a culture with lots of stark contrasts and sharp edges, endless opportunities for danger and conflict, but also for discovery a I love the extravagant, dreamy cocktail of Mitteleuropa This giant clash, recombination, alchemy of many peoples, cultures, classes all sloshed together in the first half of the 20th Century when so much was going on If this interests you try The Island of Second Sight, too It s culture like a Picasso painting, exactly what the Blood Soil types were so afraid of, a culture with lots of stark contrasts and sharp edges, endless opportunities for danger and conflict, but also for discovery and novelty It s why I ve always wanted to live in a city, to be confronted with many things that aren t like me at all.What I d give to sit down with Rezzori over a nice, long, multi course dinner Did you see the film Grand Budapest Hotel, where the narrator spends the night in a storied, Old World hotel at the table of the man who has owned the hotel through numerous regime changes and listens to his charming stories of how he survived and the way things used to be This is a lot like that, only it really happened There are plenty of good books which you gulp down and then forget And there are those rare excellent books which are made and meant to stay so that you choose to take your time to read them The Snows of Yesteryear belongs to the latter.I m not an avid reader of self biographies, but I m always glad to read one of them when the name of the writer justifies it which is to say when the author did something in literature ok, I reckon how Open by Andre Agassi doesn t quite belong here.Now, There are plenty of good books which you gulp down and then forget And there are those rare excellent books which are made and meant to stay so that you choose to take your time to read them The Snows of Yesteryear belongs to the latter.I m not an avid reader of self biographies, but I m always glad to read one of them when the name of the writer justifies it which is to say when the author did something in literature ok, I reckon how Open by Andre Agassi doesn t quite belong here.Now, Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov and Witold Gombrowicz s Polish Memories are both superb books On the same subject, I ve reasons to believe that I will enjoy those three self biographic volumes by Canetti as soon as I have enough time to dig into them.The thing is, Gregor von Rezzori did a better job than Nabokov and Gombrowicz in writing about his childhood Mark my words.One of the chief reasons why I liked The Snows of Yesteryear so much is that von Rezzori doesn t focus on himself as much as Nabokov quite obviously and Gombrowicz did That and the fact that the author chose to select his memories very carefully thus giving the book a very distinctive frame were beautiful writing goes straight to the point and every unexpected detour does lead to a specific episode The Snows of Yesteryear is shaped by people, spiced up by places and smells of history Von Rezzori here baked a delicious madeleine which brings back to life the five most important characters of his childhood his mother, father, sister, wet nurse and governess Whereas it s the opening poignant lines of the chapter dedicated to his sister which cannot left anyone untouched, I believe that von Rezzori is particularly masterful when writing about his savage wet nurse, Cassandra, and on his teacher governess, Mrs Strauss also known as Bunchy.There you have an oddity The emotional detachment von Rezzori felt for his long bygone mother and father when he wrote this book as an elderly man is less noticeable when the author remembers about Cassandra and Bunchy As a matter of fact these two women did have a deeper influence on the future novelist s early life than his parents who were either overworried about him or hopelessly distant At a first glance, Gregor von Rezzori certainly had a privileged childhood Son of a rich man of distant Italian origins but who praised his Germanness and a proud servant of a collapsing Habsburg Empire, von Rezzori grew up in a world of country houses, city mansions and holidays in spa towns or by the Carinthian lakes His mum was a fashionable woman ruling over a half dozen servants while his father was a dedicated hunter who enjoyed conversating in Latin and, accidentally, despised the Jews.And yet, the von Rezzoris didn t fit the usual Belle Epoque picture of an uptown bourgeois Austro Hungarian family giving parties, going to the opera, blaming the Versailles Treaty and alas flirting with antisemitism Living in multicultural but troubled Bukovina, the family was forced to leave their home and belongings behindthan once during young Gregor s childhood Suffice is to say that in the short span of thirty years, von Rezzori s hometown of Czernowitz passed from Austria to Romania to Soviet Union only to become an Ukrainian city back in 1991 under the current name of Chernivtsi The Snows of Yesteryear is muchthan family history and an elderly novelist reminiscing on his childhood, it s a document of extraordinary importance to understand why a single town could bear six different names Czernowitz, Chernivtsi, Chernovtsy, Cernauti, Czerniowce and Czernopol Beginning a book is like entering someone s house for the first time You might feel a little uncomfortable and unsure about your host your initial apprehension may develop into a sense of ease and reassurance or, barely across the threshold, you might feel that you are about to have a experience you will savour, with someone whose every word and action is beguiling I was half way through the prelude to the first chapter of The Snows of Yesteryear when I felt completely beguiled That feeling Beginning a book is like entering someone s house for the first time You might feel a little uncomfortable and unsure about your host your initial apprehension may develop into a sense of ease and reassurance or, barely across the threshold, you might feel that you are about to have a experience you will savour, with someone whose every word and action is beguiling I was half way through the prelude to the first chapter of The Snows of Yesteryear when I felt completely beguiled That feeling of being in the company of someone who not only had an engaging story to tell, but who could tell it with vivid details and astounding insight, using fully ripened language was there from the beginning and never let up until, at the point of departure, it faltered just a little Through five main chapters we learn about the life of a boy whose family is materially privileged but emotionally fractured Each of those chapters focuses on a person who was central to Gregor s life as he grew towards manhood, beginning with Cassandra, a maid as untamed as she is spirited Right at the start we learn that They had peeled her out of her peasant garb and had instantly consigned the shirt, the wrap skirt, the sleeveless sheepskin jacket and the leather buskins to the flames Devoid of all her colour, Cassandra says They turned a goldfinch into a sparrow For Gregor she represents a whole other way of being Described as simian , she nonetheless introduces Gregor, in a casual, though not entirely unintentional way, to sensual experiences which, even at a young age, he recognises as significant behind the black silken curtain of Cassandra s hair, in the baking oven warmth of her strong peasant corporeality, I found refuge at all times from whatever pained me Their closeness is a cause of irritation to Gregor s neurotic mother, but eventually it is age that begins to break the bond as, at age 8, the intrusive nature of potty time can be tolerated no longer and a rift occurs But nothing can take from the impact that this woman with strong roots in the north of Romania has on a boy whose early childhood is marked by a sense of belonging nowhere.Not only did the family have to flee Czernowitz, in Bukovina because of World War 1, but on making their way as far as Trieste they were forced, after less than a year, to move again this time to a village in Lower Austria That idyll had to be abandoned too for a house in Vienna before an eventual return to Czernowitz But had they never left Bukovina, the turmoil and empire building of the 20th century would have meant that they would have been a part of the Austro Hungarian Empire, then Romania, then split between Romania and the Soviet Union before becoming a part of the Ukrainian SSR, at which time Czernowitz became Chernovtsy Little wonder that Gregor s mother was a deeply unhappy woman, but it seems that farthan history impinged on her and formed her into a woman who was incapable of being happy and who seemed to have no idea of how contentment might be achieved and so remained always in the rusting shell of her unapproachability Dissatisfaction with a life that was permanently out of focus meant that she was continuously finding fault with those around her, with vexation all too easily turning into sharp cruelty Even so I was shocked when Gregor said that All too often her demonstrations of maternity had had the earmarks of rape It is difficult to find any evidence in Gregor s detailing of their relationship that quite justifies that accusation, but he has nonetheless an astonishing ability to incisively analyse the precise nature of his mother s dilemma The strictness of her own upbringing had established for her a world cast in primer like simplicity, which contained no real human beings but merely standard roles whose comportment was assigned irrespective of individuality, character, temperament or nervous dispositionany deviation into the specifically individual was a step towards chaosAnother element in the unsatisfactory life of Gregor s mother is her marriage to a man whose passion is hunting which results in his being absent much of the time In attempting to explain his father s compulsion to kill wild animals Gregor says that his all consuming passion for hunting was in reality an escape to and a shelter from the reminder of a truer and unrealised vocationA gesture of defiance stood at the very origin of his fixation indeed, obstinate defiance was the determining trait in his character He does have a job too which involves visiting old monasteries to examine the artifacts they possess Some of Gregor s happiest times were spent accompanying his father on expeditions which encompassed both facets of his life and allowed Gregor to experience moments of transcendent and revelatory beauty We are guests of the abbot with paternal kindliness the prior shows me fifteenth century illuminated manuscripts in bindings of chased silver sunlight falls through the tall windows, in broad stripes alive with dancing motes of dust, into the semidarkness of the library, and outside, jays are heard quarreling in the pines my longing thoughts wander to the glories of the autumnal forest beyond the church walls blazing in picture book colours.He portrays his father as a man who was fareven tempered than his mother,but who had several dark and unpleasant aspects to his character too, most notably a vicious antisemitism which contrasts with Gregor s mother who was much liked by her Jewish neighbours.Gregor s sister was four years older than him and he attached major significance to those years, believing that she had foundational experiences which steadied her life in a way which eluded him But he would eventually become much older than her because her life was to end long before it should have when she succumbed to just the sort of disease her mother had spent her life worrying about and through this horrible affliction her mother finally found a purpose by attending constantly to the daughter who, when she was healthy had been much less favored by her mother In contrast she had always been doted on, and indulged fully, by a father who, now that she was ill, withdrew completely and stayed where he could not witness the indignity of her final weeks.Above, around and within this family the benign presence of the children s governess Bunchy prevailed Warm and encouraging Bunchy whose laughter was reminiscent of pigeons cooing Both children learned much from this deeply knowledgeable woman When a certain pettiness of outlook degenerated into stubborn narrow mindedness , Bunchy s determined intervention drew our attention to basic discrepancies between the conception of life held by normal civilized people and that held by us We then made haste to follow her implicit injunctionAlthough Gregor was not suited to the conventions of the school system he developed into a man with an outstanding ability to record the endlessly complicated ways in which people choose, or are forced, to live their lives Bunchy, it would seem,than any of the others opened up the world for him Within that world Gregor had available to him four amazingly divergent examples of womanhood Yet he is honest enough to tell us that he had, throughout his life and in his relationships with women, a cold heart.I found some evidence of that cold heart in the epilogue to this book and I still can t decide whether or not it was wise to include it By revisiting Czernowitz he was always going to be disappointed What I feel he fails to appreciate is the extent to which a city of ones youth a place in which one can , for a little while, believe in the limitless possibilities of oneself and of the city can never be revisited because it was alwaysthan just a physical reality By recounting his understandable disappointments he risks being just another grumpy man, finding fault with the many ways in which the world has changed Except that here, because of the subjugations of communism, almost nothing has changed I couldn t get over it There could be no doubt that this was indeed the Cernauti of my childhood, tangibly concrete and real and yet it wasn t the Czernowitz whose vision I had carried in me for half a century Famously, of course, you can t go home again and I m inclined to wish he hadn t.But this is a remarkable book, evocative, witty and beautifully written Gregor von Rezzori was born in Czernowitz, a one time provincial capital of the Austro Hungarian Empire that was later to be absorbed successively into Romania, the USSR, and the Ukraine a town that was everywhere and nowhere, with a population of astonishing diversity Growing up after World War I and the collapse of the empire, Rezzori lived in a twilit world suspended between the formalities of the old nineteenth century order which had shaped his aristocratic parents and the innovations, uncertainties, and raw terror of the new century The haunted atmosphere of this dying world is beautifully rendered in the pages of The Snows of Yesteryear The book is a series of portraits amused, fond, sometimes appalling of Rezzori s family his hysterical and histrionic mother, disappointed by marriage, destructively obsessed with her children s health and breeding his father, a flinty reactionary, whose only real love was hunting his haughty older sister, fated to die before thirty his earthy nursemaid, who introduced Rezzori to the power of storytelling and the inevitability of death and a beloved governess, Bunchy Telling their stories, Rezzori tells his own, holding his early life to the light like a crystal until it shines for us with a prismatic brilliance