Abel and Cain

Gregor von Rezzori, trans. from the German by David Dollenmayer, Joachim Neugroschel, and Marshall Yarbrough. New York Review Books, $22.95 trade paper (882p) ISBN 978-1-68137-325-6
This omnibus volume, which collects a revised translation of The Death of My Brother Abel and the first translation of its companion work, Cain (first published in German in 1976 and 2001, respectively), is a masterpiece of excess. The Death of My Brother Abel takes as its subject its unnamed narrator’s incomplete novel, or more likely, that incomplete novel is Rezzori’s novel itself. For 19 years he has been writing an unfinishable autobiographical epic: “its subject was a continent: the period of a lifetime.” Over hundreds of pages the bitter and cosmopolitan narrator recounts his many escapades with Schwab, another writer, “his brother or opponent” in Paris; unfurls stories of his time as an screenwriter in post-WWII Berlin; and intersperses Proustian reminiscences of his childhood as a “fatherless orphan-boy” in Vienna, before “the postwar Ice Age years.” In Cain, the narrator gains a name, Aristides Subicz, but its plot largely rehashes the characters and themes of the first work with little added. While not entirely devoid of the sort of casual sexism and racism best left in the past, the narrator’s wit and wickedness—as well as his audacity in attempting to write a “book that bears witness to man in the second half of the twentieth century”—elevates this work. 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. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 01/29/2019
Release date: 04/30/2019
Genre: Fiction
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