ANECDOTAGE by Gregor von Rezzori
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Octogenarian memoirist and novelist von Rezzori (Oedipus at Stalingrad, 1994, etc.) reflects with wit and bitter irony on the physical and literary terrain of his journey through the 20th century. Born in the Bukovina (formerly part of Austria-Hungary) in 1914, von Rezzori has for the past 80-plus years lived in and spoken the languages of Austria, Romania, Germany, and Italy, where he currently resides. Although this memoir is spurred by a recent hospitalization and by the author's return to post-communist Romania and Germany, it is foremost a work of literary imagination, as the title aptly reflects. Like Scheherazade of the Thousand and One Nights, which forms the memoir's narrative framework, von Rezzori delights in the act of telling and captivates his audience. Damning the world's ""riffraffization,"" especially the hegemony of the mass media, von Rezzori draws a self-portrait of a man adrift in his own ""unreal"" times: ""A nineteenth-century man of letters on the threshold of the twenty-first."" A brief visit with his wife to an Indian ashram provides one of many occasions for mirthful reflections on power and religion in the 20th century. Closer to home, the self-confessed curmudgeon (""My own babble bores me to tears"") treats his readers to hilarious and accurate insights, such as this comment on Cologne's Carnival: ""There I observed how hard Germans have to work to organize a bit of whimsical chaos for their own enjoyment."" His Romania is ""a surrealist country."" A theme woven through the narrative is von Rezzori's admiration for the late writer Bruce Chatwin, whose work he sets up as a standard he never quite attained himself, although Goethe, Musil, Nabokov, Hofmannsthal, and others, who bob in and out of his reflections, he refers to as ""colleagues."" This cosmopolite makes no concessions to cultural illiteracy: He presupposed a reader as steeped as he is in the high culture of Central Europe. No riffraff allowed.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"