THE ARISTOCRAT by Ernst Weiss

THE ARISTOCRAT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A first English translation of an intense and disturbing short novel, originally published in 1928, by an obscure Moravian-born writer best known for his friendship with Franz Kafka and for his later novel The Eyewitness (1977). ""The Aristocrat"" is Bo‰tius von Orlam(infinity)nde, who narrates in a nervous present tense the story of his unhappy years at Onderkuhle, a boarding school for scions of wealth and privilege who are destined to be respected and to command (""not to be courageous, but to show courage was what was demanded""). Bo‰tius, gloomily resentful over his separation from his family, grows separated also from the expectations of his class: He fears death (which he refers to as ""D."") and broods over other boys' ascensions to courage and manliness, qualities he suspects he'll never possess. A kind of grudging celebrity attaches to him after he ""breaks"" a spirited stallion and after he appears to save a schoolmate from drowning. But Bo‰tius knows that he pushed the boy under water in the first place, and that his feeling for animals in fact evinces his displacement from what others call normality (""I love animals greatly, but something of this love is envy""). When (in 1913) Onderkuhle catches fire and burns to the ground, Bo‰tius's ""heroic"" sheen is also burned away. He returns to his native city, goes to work in a turbine factory, and only gradually reestablishes contact with his unloving mother and beloved father, settling contentedly into the anonymity and mediocrity he knows he was born for. Weiss eschews narrative logic, concentrating instead on sequences of images and ideas dictated by his troubled protagonist's moods. The book's best moments include superbly sensual, almost Lawrencian descriptions of animals--especially horses--and such unforgettable pictures as that of Bo‰tius looking into a star-filled night sky, overpowered by a sense of his own smallness and mortality. Expertly translated minor-key work, and a welcome addition to the growing body of modern European fiction available in English.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Serpent's Tail