'The Post-Office Girl' has been my commuting book over the last two weeks.
Hence, I read this novel at intervals from 7.30 to 8.30 AM and from 5.30 to...more'The Post-Office Girl' has been my commuting book over the last two weeks.
Hence, I read this novel at intervals from 7.30 to 8.30 AM and from 5.30 to 6.30 PM stuck in the upper deck of buses packed with people coughing, listening to music, talking at their cellphones, playing online games and talking to each other. And necessarily in this order.
You may therefore understand that my attention span to the written word was somewhat fickle and got easily unnerved by the virulent bursts of either cheap muzak or vicious hack erupting around me.
All that said and all distractions considered, I quite liked this book. Stefan Zweig brought me in a very specific age and place (diminished, depauperated and disillusioned Austria in the mid 1920s) and was extremely good in putting himself in the shoes of a woman, the postal official Christine seducted and abandoned by a posh life in the high districts of the Swiss Alps.
I would say that the best chunk of this novel is its seductive part, with poor Christine brought to touch the stars of a carefree and wealthy life for a mere week just in time to lose it due to the weakness and silly social concerns of her benefactors.
I've found far less convincing the second part of the novel where Christine's acrimony for her dull and miserable life is boosted up by Ferdinand, who seemed to me very much a spoof of an actual character.
True, there were times in which I blushed reading the most feuilleton-ish bits of 'The Post-Office Girl' and the abrupt ending of the novel (an unfinished one) let me down, but nonetheless I have to praise the author for most of what he accomplished here.
Just forget all those 'modern Cinderella story' and 'a tragic reindition of the Sleeping Beauty fable' tags you will see printed on the cover of your copy of this book. There's nothing or very little of that sort here.
If there's one novel I thought about when I was done with this one that is, oddly enough, 'America' by Franz Kafka.
Well, to be honest 'The Post Office Girl' shares very little with 'America', but in both cases I wished that the author had had the time and the willingness to complete what he had started.
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...moreThere 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 behind more than 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 much more than 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. (less)
Bumped into this book for two reasons, both related with personal failures:
1) I've heard about Thomas Glavinic as an interesting young novelist who pu...moreBumped into this book for two reasons, both related with personal failures:
1) I've heard about Thomas Glavinic as an interesting young novelist who published this one when he was just 26 getting positive claim. 2) It's about the game of chess.
1) I passed the age of 26 without publishing any successful book despite of my ambitions. 2) I'm an awfully bad chess player unable to get the main virtues that let you rule the game.
"Carl Haffners Liebe" is a good book. You don't need to be a chess master to appreciate it and, in case you are, you would probably be disappointed by the lack of obscure technicism while talking about the game. I think Glavinic chose the right way for writing this novel. Perhaps the only thing I missed is a better work on some characters, especially while developing the female ones (is it just a coincidence?)
The novel in itself is interesting and creates a very intense atmosphere doing an excellent portrait of the protagonist I felt many things in common with (apart from the whole chess talent). There are also some smart and sharp lines about the way a chess master may look at life in a careless way out of the chessboard. Glavinic draws a convincing fresco of how the game of chess was followed during its belle epoque with World Tournaments all over Europe before the whole thing became just another Usa/Ussr strategic battlefield during Cold War.
Valutation stands between three stars and four. I chose to give this novel three because I'm pretty sure Glavinic did even better in his following books and I'm eager to read them.