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Latest Review: "The Ermine in Czernopol" by Gregor Von Rezzori

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Lily Ye on this week’s Read This Next book, The Ermine in Czernopol by Gregor Von Rezzori. This novel is translated by Philip Boehm and forthcoming from New York Review Books.

This is the first book in the Von Rezzori trilogy, which also includes The Snows of Yesteryear and Memoirs of an Anti-Semite. All three titles are available from NYRB . . .

Here’s the opening of Lily’s review:

The Ermine of Czernopol is the first of Gregor von Rezzori’s semi-autobiographical novels about growing up in what was Austria-Hungary. In it, childhood is the conduit through which we must understand everything. The thing about a being a child is an unorthodox and oftentimes uncanny mode of perception, due to the foreign nature of those not yet fully socialized, coupled with a certain inability of expression. And this is an inevitable coupling as the very language that could do justice to children’s intuitions is only attainable through the very socialization that would dull these intuitions.

This is the conundrum that von Rezzori overcomes beautifully in Philip Boehm’s unabridged translation of The Ermine of Czernopol. In this memoir, we are treated to the un-opening of the world, its people and its countries, as understood by a group of children growing up in Czernopol, where there is a little bit of everything thrown together. The narrator speaks for his younger self, a young boy in this group of nigh inseparable siblings, as they eavesdrop upon the conversations of various adults, their primary source of information of the outside world. They listen to their frequent house guest, the prefect Herr Tarangolian, who gossips with authority; their tutor Herr Alexainu, who expounds on the nature of love; and countless others—all the while forming their own collective judgments and implications without fully comprehending what is being said. They dwell on the sounds of words and take delight in particular turns of phrase:

“The sayings we overheard, the whimsical sentences, the amazing word formations all burst into glowing colors when touched by the magical light of association [. . .]. It was like a star dropping from the sky if one of my siblings actually used in speech one of the words that had so excited us—for instance, when Tanya spoke of a leap of a great capacity—and if we were able to trace it back, not to the gymnastic exercises which Herr Alexainu had also described as a king of capacity, but to a name—in this case that of a certain Fraülein Kapralik. . . .”

To read the entire review, click here.



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