A EUROPEAN PAST: Memoirs by Prince Alfons Clary


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At 91, Prince Clary is one of the last survivors of the court of the Habsburgs, a gentleman with memory and spirits intact after countless vicissitudes, and it's a pity he hasn't made his tale more interesting. This highly selective memoir dwells on the era before 1914, when he grew up in an aristocracy that was truly international. He was related, confusingly, to almost everybody--sovereigns (distantly), diplomats, generals, eccentrics, assassins (Prince Yussoupov was a cousin--remember Rasputin?), and assassinees (Sophie Chotek, the wife of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was an aunt--remember Sarajevo?), and the ones he wasn't kin to he served under or dined with. But he recalls few discreditable or enchanting anecdotes, and the witty remarks must have been made when he was out of the room. There are some mildly amusing stories but nothing very penetrating and nothing to make this one of those memoirs cherished for generations by students and gossips. The trouble may be that Clary is just too nice to be a great diarist, or else he is too diplomatic. For instance, though he comments on Czech injustice to Sudeten Germans up to 1937, and gives us the story of his harrowing flight from the communists in 1945, the really fascinating events in Czechoslovakia between Hitler's ultimatum and the Russian occupation are completely omitted. The style itself (perhaps the translator is at fault?) is not clumsy but rather charmless, and the references to things long gone may confuse readers unfamiliar with the period. Even the reader who admires benevolent landlords, devoted servants, and a humane, anti-nationalist outlook may be disappointed that these eye-witness recollections are so superficial, with the clear lines blurred by the prevailing rosy glow.

Pub Date: March 16th, 1979
Publisher: St. Martin's