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A Legacy

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  378 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
"A book of entirely delicious quality...Everything is new, cool, witty, elegant."-Evelyn Waugh.

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," writ

Paperback, 368 pages
Published May 8th 2001 by Counterpoint (first published 1956)
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Oct 15, 2013 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
I’m so far behind on my reviews that this has to be shorter than it deserves.

The next day Sarah took him to Voss Strasse [the house of the elderly Merzes; they are both married into the Merz family]. On their way in she stopped. “Oh look at them! So beautiful. Your cats.”

He seemed taked aback. He glanced at the yellow creatures on their pedestals. “I’d forgotten about them,” he said.

“They give me pleasure every time. I really must see that they’re left to me.”

“Oh I shouldn’t,” he said.

This book
Mar 19, 2015 Bruce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 13, 2012 Rosamund rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
مروان البلوشي
تاريخ القراءة الأصلي : ٢٠٠٢
حزينة جدا رغم كل كوميديتها
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 25, 2009 Lobstergirl rated it it was ok
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
Nov 23, 2008 Denis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 30, 2011 Yooperprof rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, germany

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
Jan 16, 2016 Keith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading books by Nancy Mitford and Stella Gibbons I started gaining an appreciation of early to middle 20th century British female authors. All I encountered possessed incisive and ironical styles, often kind of a Jane Austen meets P.G. Wodehouse vibe. I had two more names on my list, Ivy Compton-Burdett and Sybille Bedford. I had read somewhere an opinion that Bedford’s A Legacy was her best fiction. To my surprise the book was set in Germany, further investigation revealed that Bedford h ...more
Henning Koch
Oct 02, 2011 Henning Koch rated it really liked it
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
Aug 23, 2015 Kit rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story was initially interesting to me but my interest flagged over the course of the novel. The author definitely has an eye for detail and an ear for speech patterns but at times I felt I was reading nothing but mimicry. This was an interesting period in German history but we learn little other than the manners of the upper middle class during this period. The point seems to be to show how cut off from the events around them these two families were, and by implication, how oblivious they we ...more
Liz Goodwin
Aug 28, 2014 Liz Goodwin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, europe
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
Jun 16, 2010 Cera rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 05, 2011 Riodelmartians rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 10, 2014 Ali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 12, 2009 Marge rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 13, 2016 Rita marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
'Her finest novel, partly about memory, both personal and cultural."
born in 1911 in Berlin [Charlottenburg], Jewish.
"Its narrator pieces together her peculiar inheritance from the rumors, innuendoes and snatches of conversation she heard as a child [in Germany]"

QUICKSANDS, 2005, is her memoir.
Aug 11, 2015 Mariele rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: xxx-overrated
Wow! This book was just so incredibly disappointing. Probably because the abstract promises more than the book is about – clearly a case of misleading marketing. I wanted to read it because I have just recently found out about this writer, who grew up about 50 km from where I am from. So I was interested in the times and that little town that framed her childhood. Oh well, there is very little of it in this novel, though. Perhaps I will have to read another one of her books, either “Jigsaw” or “ ...more
Jul 25, 2016 JacquiWine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First published in 1956, Sybille Bedford’s semi-autobiographical novel, A Legacy, tells the story of two very different families connected by marriage. As long-standing members of Berlin’s haute bourgeoisie, the Jewish Merzes are very wealthy and very traditional. By contrast, the aristocratic von Feldens hail from Baden, part of Germany’s Catholic south; they are comfortably off but not rich.

Set against a backdrop of a newly-unified Germany, the book moves backwards and forward in time alightin
This is a complex and challenging fin de siècle novel of two extended German families. Their backgrounds and world views differ dramatically, but they become intertwined through marriage. And, they face both personal and professional crises together.

Bedford describes the households of her two principal families in exquisite detail. The reader is transported into the opulent, yet dull, household of a prominent Jewish family as well as that of their Catholic in-laws who are political and titled. T
Feb 22, 2015 Suzy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 02, 2015 Janet rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 01, 2015 Barbara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 29, 2015 Tony rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A LEGACY. (1956). Sybille Bedford. **.
As I get older, my tolerance for books written in a stultifying style becomes rapidly attenuated. This is one of those books. It is preceded with acclaim from the writing community, but I end up wondering if we are all reading the same book. It’s presumably the story of two families in turn-of-the-century Germany – one Jewish, one Catholic. I’ll never know for sure since I had to stop early because I found myself reading the same page over and over again in
Sep 16, 2013 Kat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 11, 2015 Al rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Viewed as a classic by many, this is a story of two upper-class, somewhat decadent German families, one southern and one northern, one Jewish and one Catholic, bridging the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It's a tale of manners, morals and culture; of deception, ennui and aimlessness. I found it difficult to get engaged in the book. Ms. Bedford's style is somewhat stilted, and the continuity and transitions are confusing. For the most part, she lets the dialogue tell the story, a ...more
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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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