Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: March 5, 2019
Abel and Cain
by Gregor von Rezzori, introduction by Joshua Cohen, translated from the German by David Dollenmayer, Joachim Neugroschel, and Marshall Yarbrough
An NYRB Classics Original
In 1985, Gregor von Rezzori published an English translation of a novel entitled The Death of My Brother Abel. The ambition of the work, certainly the most brilliant and extravagant of Rezzori’s brilliant and extravagant career, was immediately recognized, but the translation was deemed faulty. Now Abel appears in a new, corrected translation along with, for good measure, the prequel that Rezzori promised in its last pages, Cain, previously only available in the original German. Here Abel and Cain are finally united as Rezzori intended, giving readers a chance to appreciate the phantasmagoric and bacchanalian genius of one of the twentieth-century’s great imaginative provocateurs and entertainers.
The Death of My Brother Abel zigzags back and forth across the middle of the twentieth century, from the 1918 to 1968, taking in the Jazz Age, the Anschluss, the Nuremberg trials, and the explosion of postwar commercialism. At the center of the book is the unnamed narrator, holed up in a Paris hotel in the hopes of turning the autobiographical notes he’s accumulated over the years into an actual novel. Is this book—a collage of sardonic and passionate set pieces about love and work, sex and writing, families and nations, and human treachery and cruelty—an actual novel? Or is it a betrayal of the very desire to write a novel, as the narrator feels he has betrayed his editor and sometime addressee, the writer manqué Schwab, drinking himself to death, Abel to the Cain that the garrulous, guilt-ridden, shameless narrator takes himself to be.
In Cain, the prequel promised at the end of Abel, the narrator gains a name, Aristide Subics, though perhaps Subics is in fact Schwab, and perhaps Schwab is the one who has betrayed his friend Subics. Or is it Rezzori, the putative editor of the book, who has made the fatal error of trying to tell the story of an era whose life was a lie? One way or another, in Cain, primarily set in the bombed-out, rubble-strewn Hamburg of the years just after the war, the dark confusion and deadly confrontation and of Cain and Abel, inseparable brothers, goes on.
Any reader of European literature who has not read Gregor von Rezzori has committed the unthinkable. This is the rare writer who writes with unmatched beauty and skill while celebrating the joys of life.