The Ermine of Czernopol by Gregor Von Rezzori [Read This Next]

This week’s Read This Next selection is The Ermine of Czernopol, the first in a trilogy of semi-autobiographical works by Gregor von Rezzori (The Snows of Yesteryear, Memoirs of an Anti-Semite), all of which are available from New York Review Books.

We chose this book because of its unique and revealing perspective: von Rezzori works through the recollections of the eyes and ears of a group of children, using “we” almost exclusively, and it is through these children’s growing understanding and point-of-view that von Rezzori uses his power of description and imitation bring to life the discovery of a city and the entanglements of its citizens. Von Rezzori’s extensive vocabulary does not spare his young subjects, and so the reader has the pleasure and the advantage of innocent fascination without the language of innocence.

Much of the narrative centers on the children’s obsession with Major Tildy, an Austrian officer whose extreme attention to propriety and honor and extreme guard against losing face prove very costly. And the city discovered, the city of Czernopol, is diverse to say the least, with the characters featured in this story proving themselves extremely peculiar, whether or not through the hyperbole of childhood. A stint in a mental institution, an acclaimed locksmith poet, a tutor who shuns socks, and a production of The Nutcracker ballet all feature in this insightfully and incisively written book, where children are not spared anything.

This week we will have a full review and an interview with the translator Philip Boehm. Read the extended excerpt to begin your introduction to the city of Czernopol and its peculiar sense of humor.

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