this is a quick and easy survey of Austrian history mainly post World War I. It was written a little prematurely though, as one of the last chapters hthis is a quick and easy survey of Austrian history mainly post World War I. It was written a little prematurely though, as one of the last chapters hilariously has a glowing paragraph about the promise and potential of politician Jörg Haider, who became an embarrassing right wing nightmare and set post-Holocaust progress in the country back a bit. Here he's praised on everything from his good looks to his abilities as a "political chameleon". Haha. The information/photos of post-WWII were what I found most interesting and worthwhile....more
The story is an interesting concept and like some other great memoirs it interweaves the author's personal journey of self-discovery and realization iThe story is an interesting concept and like some other great memoirs it interweaves the author's personal journey of self-discovery and realization into a historical context, and here there's the added bonus of the story of Hans Breuer, Austria's last wandering shepherd. I actually really enjoyed the parts of the book that told Hans' story as I've never come across anything like it in other literature, but I was so turned off by the author's insertion of his own crippling self-doubt and neuroses into the rest of the stories about Austria and its past (mainly related to anti-Semitism and Austrian participation and culpability in World War II) that I ended up more angry and annoyed and it completely overshadowed what would have otherwise been a thoroughly emotional, thoughtfully researched, and well-written adventure story on a unique subject.
Sometimes he's aware of his stupidity, as in the passage where he refers to riding the Vienna metro without a ticket and says that "...a small and rather stupid part of me liked the thought that I was cheating the anti-Semitic bastards out of fifty cents." Ugh. As a visitor to ANY city, have some respect. Much of his opinion on the thoughts and actions of Austrians regarding Jews and the responsibility of Gentile Austrians during and post-WWII is sometimes offensive and usually gross. He dramatically laments whether an Austrian woman who slept with him only did it to rid herself of lingering guilt on the behalf of her people. I cringed. I couldn't imagine that someone would actually write something like that when his whole shtick is being offended at Austrian anti-Semitism, but he's completely reverse racist sometimes.
When he does encounter a well-meaning woman at a demonstration who asks about his ethnicity, finds out he's Jewish and warmly embraces him, he brushes it off as "clearly some sort of creepy philo-Semitism". And if there's ever any doubt that maybe his oddity is that he's just a bit Woody Allen-ish, it's wiped out by passages such as one where he describes the shepherd's mother, a former Communist resistance member in Vienna and someone who treated him kindly and allowed him to interview her in her home about a difficult, brave time in her past as someone who could "have been a fullback on a football team of elderly midgets". He's just an asshole and for all his obsession with cultural and interpersonal sensitivity, he's got none of his own to share.
He also makes so many digs at the Viennese and their anti-Semitism that are pretty misplaced, for instance describing a statue commemorating Jewish deaths in the Holocaust and located outside of Albertinaplatz in Vienna which had to be wrapped in barbed wire because, as he tells it, "the Viennese" kept sitting on it. This is in the midst of downtown Vienna, across from the Opera, Albertinaplatz and the Albertina gallery are major draws for visitors, a big tourist information office is directly on the square, amongst a plethora of other major tourist attractions within sight. So I'm going to assume it's not just "the Viennese" who kept sitting on it. Been to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin? It's not just Berliners who jump from stone to stone, sit on them, pose on them. He just tells this story the way he's chosen to see it and it makes me sad that a lot of people will read it and never know better, or at least examine it from any other angle.
The part that nearly made me close the book was when he had some kind of neurotic breakdown on a train in the Austrian countryside and thought the best way to assuage his guilt might be to press his circumcised penis against the window of the train and let everyone who saw it be, I don't know, shocked and horrified at the sight of a Jew in Austria? It was bizarre, offensive, painfully trying to be humorous and just being uncomfortable and ignorant. I only continued because as an American of Jewish descent currently living in Austria, I thought it best to know what kind of crap he got into in case I ever get the chance to defend our kind and make up for some of his nonsense. I guess more than anything I'm disappointed; I have a similar background and interests in Germany and Austria's dealings with Holocaust acknowledgement and remembrance and I felt so embarrassed by much of what he wrote.
He took what could have been a fantastic and fascinating story of this shepherd, his Yiddish folksongs and connection to Austria's Jewish past and turned it into a cringeworthy cautionary tale about why to never invite the author to interview you. It's hard to even appreciate the history and anecdotes that he presents when he's made himself such an obnoxious, self-centered, and unlikeable narrator. Austria's anti-Semitism and cultural memory and the way it relates to the country's future are deep and fascinating topics, but this book isn't the text to even begin exploring them. Maybe if the author could have kept himself out of it for more than a couple of pages the material might have become something worthwhile. Oh and this is all without mention thus far of the uncomfortable dream sequences he's made up involving real-life characters and vaguely resembling recent situations he's found himself in...yes, dream sequences. Oh that Freud's couch was still available in Vienna so this guy could have a seat....more
I loved this book and I hope it eventually gets the recognition it deserves among WWII memoirs. It's not written in any kind of lofty prose but it's aI loved this book and I hope it eventually gets the recognition it deserves among WWII memoirs. It's not written in any kind of lofty prose but it's accessible, eventful, and emotional. I also like that a large part of the story is centered in Vienna and the city itself remains a character throughout, always recalled while the author is trying to adjust elsewhere. There are so many stories from locations like occupied Paris and war-torn Germany but relatively few from Vienna, especially one told by someone with a lifelong love for the city. Unlike some other stories of Jewish survival in the face of Nazi persecution, hers isn't remarkable and unbelievable - just clever and careful and that makes it interesting; so often I've read about Jewish survivors who are described simply, like "obtained a visa, escaped to Britain before things got too bad". It wasn't that simple and her story details it.
And I love her storytelling voice - she's honest, even when it doesn't make her look good. She's overt and sexual with a lot of depth and human connection while maintaining enviable cleverness and intelligence.
I read, maybe in the intro, that it might not have gotten as many accolades because of her writing about men and clothes. She writes about these but never shallowly, more in connection to a greater picture, and it establishes her as a person with a firmly rooted life and loves - excellent in her line of work and deeply passionate in her life.
It does suffer from an atrocious title though....more
This was difficult. I kept noting really gorgeously written passages, and when the anecdotes and historical bits made sense, they were worth reading.This was difficult. I kept noting really gorgeously written passages, and when the anecdotes and historical bits made sense, they were worth reading. But so much of it is hard to get through, with so many obscure references and philosophical asides that didn't add much to the cultural or historical aspects that I thought were the basis of the book. I'm not sure the author actually knew what kind of book he wanted to write because it's all over the place, subject-wise and stylistically. I thought the section about Vienna, I think called Cafe Central, was written in a livelier style with less of the confusing and only vaguely relevant segues. So...that was nice....more
I expected a humorous portrayal of modern Germany alongside historical context, but when a sense of humor appeared it was more weird and offensive thaI expected a humorous portrayal of modern Germany alongside historical context, but when a sense of humor appeared it was more weird and offensive than anything, like in one instance the author wrote that unattractive people spend a lot of time looking at maps. Maybe a stereotype I've so far never encountered? (Or just personal bias because I consider myself not unattractive and also interested in maps, but there are plenty of other occasions when he makes sweeping and seemingly random generalizations.) He also frequently refers to many things, from monuments to the recreational activities of historical figures, as "stupid" without adequate explanation - he just finds all of these things stupid and likes to say so. Also ugly and boring, he describes many places and things as those too. He insults so many aspects of German culture and history that I never actually understood why he enjoys Germany in the first place. Life's too short to spend it kicking around places that you hate! When he did discuss historical aspects, they were either so drily written or with such esoteric asides that they were difficult to follow. It had some value in a few interesting lines or facts here and there, but if I hadn't been on a trip with only this book to read I wouldn't have bothered (nearly) finishing it....more
The book isn't anything special and is actually really dry, and for this confusing and complicated time in history, you can't be boring about it or itThe book isn't anything special and is actually really dry, and for this confusing and complicated time in history, you can't be boring about it or it's just impossible to read. Luckily it's short, and the only reason to even bother with it are the pictures. It's fully illustrated with rare photos, paintings, advertisements, and propaganda from the time period and it's worth it for that really interesting aspect....more