A lyrical, splendidly written account of childhood by the author of Memoirs of an Anti-Semite (1981) and The Death of My...

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THE SNOWS OF YESTERYEAR: Portraits for an Autobiography

A lyrical, splendidly written account of childhood by the author of Memoirs of an Anti-Semite (1981) and The Death of My Brother Abel (1985). Von Rezzori paints portraits here of his mother, father, and sister, his nanny/wetnurse and his governess, all against the backdrop of their country house on the edge of Czernowitz, a Carpathian forest town in the Bukovina (the former Austrian crownland that has since been incorporated into the Soviet Union). Spiritually, von Rezzori was closer to his nanny Cassandra, ""the savage one"" (as she was called by the family), than to his parents; he was affected deeply and at an early age by the fairy tales she told in her colorful peasant's ""absurd lingua,"" which contrasted sharply with his father's High German. Von Rezzori's writing soars when he recalls his father, a robust, fun-loving, sharptempered huntsman whose ""anti-Semitism was outfight pathological."" His father's favorite was von Rezzori's older sister, a precocious gift who was fond of torturing her little brother, and who died in her early 20s--ostensibly because she realized that in her reduced circumstances she could no longer live the ""fairy-tale delusion"" of her childhood and had to reconcile herself to the ""prosaics of reality."" (Obviously von Rezzori, in an ultimate victory over her, fared somewhat better emotionally.) Their mother, an elegant, neurotic woman, left their father after 13 years of marriage, and with the outbreak of the WW II the family scattered. Despite the epilogue, in which von Rezzori revisits his hometown as an adult, we ultimately have much less of a sense of von Rezzori the man than we did in the fictional yet highly autobiographical Memoirs of an Anti-Semite. Still, here the lines between fiction and nonfiction become beautifully blurred as we lose ourselves in von Rezzori's recollections; the magical landscape and characters of his past in a house and a country that no longer exist take on mythic proportions.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 1989

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1989