The Snows of Yesteryear (New York Review Books Classics)
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Gregor von Rezzori was born in Czernowitz, a onetime provincial capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that was later to be absorbed successively into Romania, the USSR, and the Ukraine—a town that was everywhere and nowhere, with a population of astonishing diversity. Growing up after World War I and the collapse of the empire, Rezzori lived in a twilit world suspended between the formalities of the old nineteenth-century order which had shaped his aristocratic parents and the innovations, uncertainties, and raw terror of the new century. The haunted atmosphere of this dying world is beautifully rendered in the pages of The Snows of Yesteryear.
The book is a series of portraits—amused, fond, sometimes appalling—of Rezzori’s family: his hysterical and histrionic mother, disappointed by marriage, destructively obsessed with her children’s health and breeding; his father, a flinty reactionary, whose only real love was hunting; his haughty older sister, fated to die before thirty; his earthy nursemaid, who introduced Rezzori to the power of storytelling and the inevitability of death; and a beloved governess, Bunchy. Telling their stories, Rezzori tells his own, holding his early life to the light like a crystal until it shines for us with a prismatic brilliance.
a thing as a “single great love in life,” then my sister was his. Surely he also loved my mother in his unromantic way and would have known how to invest his feelings with greater affection if only she had met him halfway. That he was not insensitive to her charm he revealed on many occasions: with the gifts he gave her, the books he sent her even after they had separated, such as, surprisingly—in some way as a counterweight to his mating capercaillies and bellowing stags—Sonnets to Ead by Anton
came to visit. Against this, not even Cassandra could offer protection: she too had not yet been “of that world.” But all these boastings ceased as soon as we returned to the Bukovina and moved not to the Odaya but to the house outside Czernowitz. My sister’s refusal to visit the Odaya, her silences and her frequently abrupt and noncommittal answers whenever I asked for details about life there made me envious: I saw that her reticence concealed something she begrudged me. I did all I could to
reality which is one of the boons derived from such East European schools of life, made my approach to the subject “man and woman” even more prosaic than it would have been, given my natural disposition. Nor did it require my father’s sharp aphorisms, barely lightened by humor, on related themes. From Cassandra’s earthy closeness to nature, through Mother’s shifting, flickering professions of tenderness alternating with explosions of rage and cruel punishments, all the way to my sister’s icy
by our period. Thus the summer of 1931 went by. Fritz went home to Styria and from there to the United States to complete his law studies. It was accepted that thereafter he would marry my sister. Meanwhile, she had gotten her job as secretary for the Danube Commission and had moved to Galatz. I enrolled at the Mining Academy in Leoben. My father was holed up in the woods. It was paradoxical: he who always had preached to us about the “return to the West” and our affiliations with Germany’s
to the empty sanatorium. But Dr. B. did not die immediately, although he had been blinded. He dragged himself to his desk and with his last remaining strength managed to scrawl on a slip of paper: “Dr. Z. has killed me.” Then he died. His wife found him an hour later; one and a half hours later the police discovered in Dr. Z.’s consulting room all the paraphernalia necessary to prepare hydrogen sulfide. The vial was still in his briefcase. The person who couldn’t stop shaking his head over