I read this book for the European Reading Challenge 2015.
Memoirs of an Anti-Semite – Gregor von Rezzori (tr. By Joachim Neusgroschel)
This novel is made up of five long stories. The narrator is Sicilian by ancestry, Austrian by education, German culturally and linguistically, and Romanian only by a treaty that came of out of World War I. The narrator is anti-Semitic – his kind of people simply don’t like Jewish people and wish they would stay in their place. His disposition doesn’t stop him from being drawn to Jewish people. He basks in the noisy, supportive environment of a Jewish boarding house (“Lowinger’s Rooming House”) and carries on affairs with vulnerable Jewish women (“Troth,” “Pravda”).
Set between the wars, each story recounts his deep relationship with a Jewish person that he treats unkindly. In boyhood, he befriends a Jewish boy but becomes jealous of him because he turns out to be a musical prodigy. Working a ridiculous dead-end job. In Vienna, he has an affair with a maternal widow who calls him “Baby.” In the rooming house, he is infatuated with a Jewish teacher, who is far ahead of him in maturity, integrity and modernity. Later the narrator marries an affectionate Jewish woman. They have a sickly son but break up due to his prejudiced racial feelings. The narrator is fascinated and disturbed by what he perceives to be Jewish otherness, Jewish distinctiveness. Ultimately, for him, Jewish people can do no right. He can’t stand them when they flee Germany for their lives and make the other cities crowded. Nor does he like it when German cities, empty of Jewish people, seem deserted because “there’s nobody left to hate.”
Readers with an interest in the social and psychological nature of prejudice will find this an interesting book. As will readers who are looking for a portrait of Europe between the wars, similar to the atmospherics Alan Furst goes after. Some parts are over-written, overdoing the tragic sense of life. But the character sketches are brilliant. Well worth reading.