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A Legacy

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  247 ratings  ·  39 reviews
The Kaiser's Germany is the setting of Sybille Bedford's first and best-known novel, in which two families -- one from solid, upholstered Jewish Berlin, the other from the somnolent, agrarian Catholic South -- become comically, tragically, irrevocably intertwined. "Each family," writes the author, "stood confident of being able to go on with what was theirs, while in fact ...more
Published June 1st 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 1956)
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I have decided that I do not read enough female authors and so I intend to make sure that at least one of the books I am reading is written by a woman. Sybille Bedford is not very well known; just over 100 ratings and just over 20 reviews for this, her most famous novel. Yet listen to what has been said about her. Julia Neuberger called her the finest woman writer of the 20th Century (not sure I agree), the novelist and critic Francis King called A Legacy one of the greatest books of the 20th Ce ...more
Sybille Bedford was a German-born writer who wrote in English. Born in 1911, she died in 2006. Due to somewhat chaotic childhood circumstances, her youth was rather peripatetic. She lived in a number of European countries, eventually settling in London as an adult. A Legacy, one of her half-dozen novels, has autobiographical elements.

The story involves two German families, the Merzs who are Jewish and the Feldens who are Catholic. The trajectories of these families are united by a brief marriage
Suzanne Stroh
My reviews here are summary, not comprehensive, so I won't clarify the story for readers who are on the fence about reading a difficult novel. I think of this book as combining the depth and lushness (and vague loveliness) of Proust with the 19th century novel tradition of Buddenbrooks or similar. Bedford lays out a sophistocated accounting of the Kaiser's Germany in many areas, and if you are looking for a a book like Stones from the River (Ursula Hegi) which seeks to explain the root causes of ...more
An extraordinary elliptical novel written in a concise, elegant and slightly distant style. I loved this book from the first paragraph and was surprised to read so many negative reviews on Goodreads. Don't be dissuaded from reading this beautiful book full of irony and subtle humour if you are a reader who enjoys doing a bit of the work and does not expect to be guided through every character and plot development with the literary equivalent of airport runway lights. The book is to some extent a ...more
Sam Schulman
Read many years ago, and I could barely stand to turn the pages, as their truthfulness was too painful, as if it were myself telling my history. But it wasn't my history, and it was scarcely Sybille Bedford's - although she knew Germany well. But the experience of the German Jewish boy in and out of his family, as they tried to fit and fit him into a Germany that did not fit him - crystallized in the military academy the boy is sent to, called to me in a way that made it almost impossible to rea ...more
Mar 16, 2012 Lobstergirl rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Meghan McCain
Shelves: own, fiction
The plot - such as it was - had potential: two interrelated upper-class families in Wilhelmine Germany, one Jewish, the other Catholic, a few difficult marriages, and one son's terrible experience at a harsh cadet school which would have repercussions for the entire family. The execution was horrid. Critics intend it as a compliment when they say someone writes dialogue like Ivy Compton-Burnett; it's not. Consider it the kiss of death.
Pauline Ross
This was an exceptionally difficult book to read, largely because of the author's habit of not clearly introducing characters, relationships or events, but leaving the reader somehow to devine what is going on. The writing is highly stylised, and the dialogue is opaque.

The setting, newly united Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is potentially an interesting one, and students of that period would probably understand a great deal more of the subtext than I did. Clearly
Bedford is one of the most underrated great writers of our times and she seems totally unknown here in the US. Her trilogy, composed of the following titles: A Compass Error / A Favorite of the Gods / A Legacy, is a wonderful story based on her own life in Europe betweent the two wars. Those three different novels really make up for one unique book, and need to be read together. The result is a masterpiece, tender and comical, which makes you wish you had met Bedford in her young age. Worthy of ...more
Liz Goodwin
As I was becoming comfortably immersed in high-society, pre-WW1 Europe, enjoying the kind of jaunty elegance depicted in the Impressionist paintings one character shrewdly collects, I began to sense an ominous undercurrent: time seemed to be speeding up. The story of the mingling of the Merzes and the Feldens starts with the patriarchs of these two families: both are near the pinnacles of their separate realms (the Jewish haute-bourgeousie and the Catholic aristocracy) but their most important l ...more
Sybille Bedford's first novel, very autobiographical with a stunning sense of place and of a time in Germany history now long gone. Bedford's prose as always is glorious.
Read the full review here.
I found it intereting but I don't think I 'got' it in the sense that I don't really understand what the author was trying to illustrate beyond making some sense out of her own experiences (the novel is heavily biographical) and depicting life as it was for some very specific people around the turn of the last century. Which is not a bad thing for a novel to do, but I just can't quite figure out how to think about it. Also, I usually enjoy obliqueness, but some of the exchanges between Sarah and ...more
A very strong mid-20th century novel prose style combined with the unique and dying class divisions theme and a nicely placed narrator (who is the child of a couple of the characters, but for a while keeping it a mystery to the reader what exactly this child's status was).

Nancy Mitford said it was good, and I'm inclined to agree with her.

Some clever dialogue (reminiscent of an Ivy Compton-Burnett novel) interspersed with undeveloped characters in a family drama set in Wilhelmine Germany. There's some wit about the follies of the bourgeoisie in Pre-World War I Europe. In the better parts, it reminded me of a Germanic "Galsworthy Saga." But there's just too much missing. It's like watching a foreign language film without subtitles. And I gave up caring at all about the characters about half-way through. Moreover, the whole
Another interesting and thoughtful book by NYRB press. Very subtly written, almost to where I was confused in places, but a careful and slow second (or third) reading of certain parts helped. This was certainly intentional by the author which is why I'm lauding the book instead of hating it. The confusing parts were hard to get through, but that's just it. Much of what was confusing were the things in life (at that time) that were not addressed openly, keeping these plots lines in the shadows, i ...more
Wonderful biography memoir of a very eccentric father and life in the Kaiser's Germany. A luscious portrait of life with wealthy grandparents in Berlin. Did you know there was such a thing as early breakfast and late breakfast. Be sure to read this before you read the memoir of mother in Jigsaw. The final installment is Quicksands where adjustment to memories are made.
The Legacy is a well written novel about two families from wildly different backgrounds (Jewish and Catholic)
in pre WW1 Germany ,who become enmeshed through relationships of the children of the families.
The narrator, a daughter, in a device Bedford has used in other novels , tells the story of what led to the present situation.
The legacy is past events and actions of the characters, the plots turns involve religion, the wish to avoid scandal , mental illness
and politics, but also a finances, w
Barbara A
Does anyone have Woody Allen's phone number or a way to reach Jane Austen? I have a great collaborative property for them : an indescribably gorgeous serio-comic novel in which nothing, and yet everything, happens. Ennui meets angst in this brilliant, brilliant novel of idiocy, apathy and the classic, tragic inability to foresee the future. Sybille Bedford is sadly under-recognized by a wider reading public and this must be corrected. I thank uber-bookseller Sean Halpert of the MFA Bookstore for ...more
This read more like an outline of a novel than like a fully developed novel, but, still, I did find myself absorbed in the scenes and the world of pre World War I Germany Bedford describes here.
Can't really decide how much I like this. The story is about the well-to-do in Western Europe (mainly Germany and France) before WW I. Although Germany had no formal state religion, France was emerging from Catholicism as being the state religion. I think it is important to be aware of this because a lot of the story has to do with differences in religious customs and regional cultures. Bedford is a great writer, but the story at times was difficult for me to follow because parts were mainly dia ...more
Henning Koch
I am still reading it, and it has a cumulative effect, with striking portraits of people, and an age. It has "the English disease". By this I mean that, somehow, one is oppressed by a stink of class, not in the actual subject matter but the stance of the writer.
The same oppression emanates from English "working class books" (whatever these may be). Maybe it is a problem unique to England? England, after all, does not have intellectuals. German or French intellectuals are elevated above petty no
This comic, quirky novel set chiefly in Germany and France prior to World War I, interweaves personal and political history with great success. Bedford, whose own family history provided the material for much of the book, is a genius with dialogue, and employs it for both the usual purposes and for unusual ones. Events cover many years and there are many characters and viewpoints, so it must be read with attention. Characters are upper class and reflect the myopia that comes from that, but they ...more
Jed Mayer
Bedford is an immensely talented writer, but this was often flat when there should have been pathos, and often perplexing when there should have been clarity: an almost fine novel.
Tom Wascoe
Not my kind of book. I found the story boring and the dialogue confusing. The dialogue is almost a "stream-of-consciousness" dialogue. The attention to detail and the descriptive passages are excellent but, again, I found myself rushing to get through with the book.
Recently re-released, A Legacy, is a very good novel. A view in a long gone world.
I have mixed feelings about this book. Certain scenes are characters are so vividly drawn that they are likely to stay with me far longer than most, and I am not thinking only of the "cause celebre" that the plot keeps coming back to. Much of the novel, however, struck me as unremarkable - and certainly it didn't justify the reviews I've seen that spoke about Bedford's supposedly gifted use of language. On the whole, this is a just a sad story of a decidedly odd family touched by the currents of ...more
Philip Lane
I found this story of a German family a bit baffling for most of the time as it all seemed rather disjointed. However I realised by the time I finished it that it was all about hidden skeletons. The society of upper class turn of the century Germans flits from Spain to France and back to Germany. I did enjoy the everyday descriptions of meals and conversations about current affairs. This is a book which would probably benefit from a second reading.
Gretchen Achilles
OK, This book was recommended by an author I really like in one of those back of the book interviews. I wish I could remember who it was. While the subject matter is interesting (Germany at the turn of the century) and something I did not know much about, the plot rises and falls. It is quite good in places, and extremely tedious in others. I have not finished it, I have about 1/4 left to go. I may finish it yet...
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Sybille Bedford, OBE (16 March 1911 – 17 February 2006) was a German-born English writer. Many of her works are partly autobiographical. Julia Neuberger proclaimed her "the finest woman writer of the 20th century" while Bruce Chatwin saw her as "one of the most dazzling practitioners of modern English prose.


The Sudden View: a Mexican Journey - 1953 - (republished as A Visit to Don Otavio: a T
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Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education A Visit to Don Otavio A Favourite of the Gods Aldous Huxley: A Biography A Compass Error

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“What I learnt came to me . . . at second and at third hand, in chunks and puzzles, degrees and flashes.” 0 likes
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