The Snows of YesteryearPortraits for an Autobiography
by Gregor von Rezzori, introduction by John Banville, translated from the German by H.F. Broch De Rothermann
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.
Intensely moving...with a fine disdain for sentiment, a transparency of feeling, an acid sense of humor and a vigilant eye for nuances of love and indifference, language, landscape, and class behavior.
— Robert Hughes, Time
One of those rare and lovely books that defy category. Fiction and non-fiction meet in the precision and quality of Rezzori's prose, in his passion for the perfect detail, and in his power to capture the reader's heart.
— Alan Furst
The Snows of Yesteryear is autobiography as portraiture...Each portrait is a miniature of the Bukovinian past.
— The New York Review of Books
The Snows of Yesteryear's five "portraits" add up to a nonfiction Bildungsroman...an eclectic cultural smorgasbord almost comical in its complications...Shrewdly dovetailing psychological observation and factual background in five marvelous interdependent narratives, Rezzori blends public and personal history with brilliance and aplomb. Praise should go to translator H. F. Broch de Rothermann for rendering Rezzori's German into such seductively lyrical English prose.
— The Seattle Times
The weight of history lies heavily on the people of Central Europe; this powerful memoir shows us how painful that weight can be.
Writing in lyrical, allusive prose—elegantly translated from the German by H. F. Broch de Rothermann—Mr. von Rezzori uses his portraits...to create a book that is, at once, an autobiography and a picture of a vanished age...The Snows of Yesteryear reveals its author's rich pictorial imagination, his seemingly total recall, his gift for revealing character through anecdotes colored by memory...His book remains both an elegiac tribute to a receding past and a testament to the redemptive powers of memory—a family photography album, beautifully translated into words.
— Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times Book Review
Von Rezzori's best-known novel, Memoirs of an Anti-Semite, and his recent memoir, The Snows of Yesteryear, were works of sly, silky lyricism filled with sharp detail and a deft, ironic moral weight. Above all they offered marvelous character-portraits in prose, with the novel wryly evoking the women who shaped its narrator's sensual and intellectual life and the memoir giving an indelible account of von Rezzori's tragicomically dysfunctional family as it weathered the cataclysms of a war-stricken Europe.
— Washington Post