Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: June 4, 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
The Death of My Brother Abel and its delirious sequel, Cain, constitute the magnum opus of Gregor von Rezzori’s prodigious career, the most ambitious, extravagant, outrageous, and deeply considered achievement of this wildly original and never less than provocative master of the novel. In Abel and Cain, the original book, long out of print, is reissued in a fully revised translation; Cain appears for the first time in English.
The Death of My Brother Abel zigzags across the middle of the twentieth century, from the 1918 to 1968, taking in the Jazz Age, the Anschluss, the Nuremberg trials, and postwar commercialism. At the center of the book is the unnamed narrator, holed up in a Paris hotel and writing a kind of novel, a collage of sardonic and passionate set pieces about love and work, sex and writing, families and nations, and human treachery and cruelty. In Cain, that narrator is revealed as Aristide Subics, or so at least it appears, since Subics’ identity is as unstable as the fictional apparatus that contains him and the times he lived through. Questions abound: How can a man who lived in a time of lies know himself? And is it even possible to tell the story of an era of lies truthfully? Primarily set in the bombed-out, rubble- strewn Hamburg of the years just after the war, the dark confusion and deadly confrontation of Cain and Abel, inseparable brothers, goes on.
If a great novel can be recognized by its obsessions, its characters and, above all, its tone, then The Death of My Brother Abel is unquestionably great. Rezzori addresses the major problems of our time, and his voice echoes with the disturbing and wonderful magic of the true storyteller...His is a turbulent, torrential story, full of passion, fire, regret, remorse-stained by anger toward the bourgeoisie, the changing times we live in—the proverbial Zeitgeist—and especially the Second World War and postwar profiteers. Rezzori’s inspiration is fueled by a feverish nostalgia for the past and an even greater nostalgia for an improbable, if not impossible, future. This is no classical novel, not even a modern one; it is its own kind of book, a novel within a novel, or more precisely a number of novels within a novel....Like all true novels, The Death of My Brother Abel provides no answer. The book may come to us from another time, another universe; but we believe in it, and that is what matters.
—Elie Wiesel, The Washington Post
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.
[The Death of My Brother Abel] is monumental in scope and unconventional in technique.... In his depiction of the postwar years, Mr. von Rezzori has given us one of the clearest pictures we have of those Germans who desire to forget the Nazi past, to consider yesterday ‘only a rumor.’
—The New York Times
This volume resurrects the vanished high culture of Mann and Musil’s Europe while also tackling the horrors of the war and its aftermath. These new translations breathe life into von Rezzori’s ambitious and exhausting epic.
Gregor von Rezzori’s novels...have won him many admirers and a reputation as a writer of brilliance and of the highest ambition. He has been likened by critics both here and in Europe to Mann, Grass, and Musil.
Lost worlds and cities emerge from under von Rezzori’s pen, simultaneously beautifully remembered and richly imagined. Only the truly great writers can do that.
[Rezzori] describe[s] with bitter hilarity the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the rise of the Nazis. Those world-historical cataclysms are filtered through the miserable, manic consciousnesses of Rezzori’s fictional alter-egos (sex-crazed, decayed aristocrats with bad jobs, guilt complexes, and PTSD). Rezzori’s is ‘a writerly talent that united in itself the qualities of Henry Miller with those of Dostoevsky,’ as the narrator of his magnum opus, The Death of My Brother Abel, puts it.
—Len Gutkin, The Chronicle of Higher Education