Monday, October 27, 2014

European RC #6

I read this for the European Reading Challenge 2014.

The Snows of Yesteryear - Gregor von Rezzori

Gregor von Rezzori was born on 1914 in Czernowitz, Bukovina in Romania, now Chernivtsi, Ukraine. He spent his childhood in Bukovina, though he did time as a recalcitrant schoolboy in an Austrian boarding school. These five autobiographical essays cover five people who influenced his emotions and attitudes: nanny, mother, father, sister and governess. This detailed story is full of interesting details about a young person’s discovery and creation of self. The author has some curious ideas about  Freudian theory and palmistry, but he also makes the sociological observation that we are also influenced by the times in which we grew up, an idea that readers born in the Fifties connect with whole-heartedly. He’s writing about people’s lives after the social fabric of the Austro-Hungarian Empire unraveled due to World War I.

His writing is marked by keen powers of observation. As a child, he and his nanny Cassandra developed a language that only they understood. Ruthenian, by the way, refers to varieties of Eastern Slavonic spoken in territories controlled variously by Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine.

She spoke both Romanian and Ruthenian, both equally badly—which is not at all unusual in the Bukovina—intermixing the two languages and larding both with bits from a dozen other idioms. The result was that absurd lingua franca, understood only by myself and scantily by those who, like her, had to express themselves in a similarly motley verbal hodgepodge. Even though it may be questioned whether I was actually fed at Cassandra’s breast, there can be no doubt that linguistically I was nourished by her speech. The main component was a German, never learned correctly or completely, the gaps in which were filled with words and phrases from all the other tongues spoken in the Bukovina—so that each second or third word was either Ruthenian, Romanian, Polish, Russian, Armenian or Yiddish, not to forget Hungarian and Turkish. From my birth, I heard mainly this idiom, and it was as natural to me as the air that I breathed.

Oy, the diversity of middle and Eastern Europe! Enjoying this memoir would be readers who like to read about cities that have three or more names.

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