Memoirs of an Anti-SemiteA Novel in Five Stories
by Gregor von Rezzori, introduction by Deborah Eisenberg, translated by Joachim Neugroschel
The elusive narrator of this beautifully written, complex, and powerfully disconcerting novel is the scion of a decayed aristocratic family from the farther reaches of the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire. In five psychologically fraught episodes, he revisits his past, from adolescence to middle age, a period that coincides with the twentieth century’s ugliest years. Central to each episode is what might be called the narrator’s Jewish Question. He is no Nazi. To the contrary, he is apolitical, accommodating, cosmopolitan. He has Jewish friends and Jewish lovers, and their Jewishness is a matter of abiding fascination to him. His deepest and most defining relationship may even be the strange dance of attraction and repulsion that throughout his life he has conducted with this forbidden, desired, inescapable, imaginary Jewish other. And yet it is just this relationship that has blinded him to—and makes him complicit in—the terrible realities of his era.
Lyrical, witty, satirical, and unblinking, Gregor von Rezzori’s most controversial work is an intimate foray into the emotional underworld of modern European history.
[A] devastatingly beautiful chronicle of personal metamorphosis...daring and revelatory.
— Chicago Sun Times
These haunting stories portray history unwinding within a single skull, a cultivated, often charming mind being betrayed by a catastrophic flaw. They also show how such treason, magnified many millions of times, led civilization itself to the brink.
— Paul Gray, Times Literary Supplement
A superb and unsettling satirical novel from 1979, in which the cosmopolitan and apolitical narrator exposes the ugliness of 20th-century Europe through his attraction-repulsion obsession with Jews.
— Martin Levin, The Globe & Mail
Gregor von Rezzori, in his newly reissued novel Memoirs of an Anti-Semite, meshes the micro and macro versions of interwar anti-Semitism very skillfully indeed...[a] welcome new edition in the library of classics kept evergreen by The New York Review of Books...Writing as he did from the wreckage of postwar Europe, Gregor von Rezzori could claim the peculiar distinction of being one of the few survivors to treat this ultimate catastrophe in the mild language of understatement. This is what still gives his novel the power to shock.
— Christopher Hitchens, The Atlantic
What we recall...is the breathtaking richness of the history it recounts and the extraordinary way it makes time pass by...Yet it is not alone for the vividness of its settings and characters that we attend to Memoirs of an Anti-Semite. We also savor the sound of the author's voice, an extraordinary blend of bitter self-denigration and sweet recollection. We relish his haunting evocations of twilight...and of course we an never avert our eyes from the dissection of anti-Semitism that keeps going on in the background—a dissection that amounts to an anatomy of Central Europe in the 20th century.
— Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times