“THE DEATH OF MY BROTHER ABEL”: GREGOR VON REZZORI BOOK ON THE DEATH OF OLD EUROPE

April 7, 2011 at 8:23 am | Posted in Books, Germany, History | Leave a comment

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The Death of My Brother Abel

Gregor Von Rezzori (Author)

Joachim Neugroschel (Translator)

Product Details:

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • November 4, 1986
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140096906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140096903

“The ultimate “Abel” of the book is meaning itself.

Why remember, why reflect, why contemplate in such a world?”

“In the new world, in our world that is, ‘Memory is a sin.’”

The book predicts its own obscure destiny due to the death of the cultured reader, or cultured person for that matter. It is an essentially a swan song for the civilized Western World (particularly Paris) before it became, as our narrator tells a friend (who is also the vicarious reader, of course), “for Americans: a super-dimensional Disneyland. People like us are looking for something completely different: namely, THE CITY, the metropolis with all its perverse charms and exquisite terrors, above all the unreal and surreal.” Beware all who pick up this book and do not know basic French! And yet, the tone is jaunty rather than jaundiced, comical, world-mocking and self-mocking. Rezzori’s poetic prose skips over the destruction of Western values with a wry smile. How else could one make it through the 600 pages? During the funeral of his dear friend Schwab near the end, he describes the officiating priest thus: “By way of demonstrating that he truly believed in the faith with which he wanted to fortify the faith of all the others, he had disguised himself as a mountebank at a medieval fair.” The book is strewn with such chuckling observations, even during the Nuremberg trials! But, let there be no doubt, the book is one of loss, the loss of a whole world, an entire mindset, above all, of the art of remembering.

In the new world, in our world that is, “Memory is a sin.”

So many lovely passages abound here. The narrator describes his memory of his childhood strikingly, as it was in 1938: “Bessarabia, the landscape of my childhood, has also frozen, a land of hoar and frost, with white foggy mornings before the icy blue of the sky stiffens the mist into feathery star crystals.” But, again, the overarching theme is bleak.

The shared culture that held people together and the language that has bound them has been destroyed along with the burned out European cities.

“In the new world, in our world that is, “Memory is a sin.”

A passage describing the attempt to be a literary author in such a milieu, with such a lack of a Zeitgeist, where everything – language and people – are, not to put too fine a point on it, “For Sale” is shattering:

“What a blessing: to be loved by a whore, who submits to anyone, whom anyone uses unhesitatingly, and to be loved by her because of your superior dealings with language, which is similarly a whore, whom everyone (aside from a chosen few) uses unhesitatingly…the never wholly dissolved remnant of hatred and disgust that lurks in every love, beyond the struggle between the sexes, a battle never waged to the point of purification…”

In the end, old Europe has the crepuscular charm of “one of the old hookers who have wafted around the Place des Terres like autumn leaves and whose final lure is despair.”

The book teems with so many gems that one is unable to cover them in the space of this review.

The ultimate “Abel” of the book is meaning itself. Why remember, why reflect, why contemplate in such a world?

One might conclude here with the narrator’s thoughts on his fading memories of two of his former selves:

“Still, a secret rapport existed between the two of them (the realization they were I), in which I was not included. They existed through me and beyond me, in a higher form of existence than I had yet attained…It (the rapport) sounded like my own echo, but I had forgotten the words of the original call, and the echo had died away no sooner than I thought I had caught it.”

A humane and beautiful swan song indeed.

The Death of My Brother Abel

Rezzori packs copious amounts of philosophical reflection into a tale about pre/during and after WW2 Germany.

Rezzori focuses on what makes up the Zeitgeist of an era. There were plenty of Germans who had no time for Hitler, but history has forgotten them and the whole of German history has been revised in many ways to give a picture of something inevitable about the rise of fascism. But fascism was a ‘popular’ parlor alternative to Communism; the effect of the depression on all world politics is overlooked; the Jews were always a convenient European scapegoat…

Rezzori looks at the pre war-almost-serfdom(that was doomed to go; to be replaced by what?) and the ‘economic miracle’ of post war Germany and the ‘US’ standardization of European culture.

“The ultimate “Abel” of the book is meaning itself.

Why remember, why reflect, why contemplate in such a world?”

“In the new world, in our world that is, ‘Memory is a sin.’”

The Death of My Brother Abel

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