The Kaiser's Germany is the setting of Sybille Bedford's first and best-known novel, in which two families-one from solid, upholstered Jewish Berlin, the other from the somnolent, agrarian Catholic South -become comically, tragically, irrevocably intertwined. Each family, writes the author, stood confident of being able to go on with what was theirs, while in fact they were playthings, often victims, of the now united Germany and what was brewing therein. Did the monstrous thing that followed have its foundation in families such as these? Writing about them made me think so. Hence the title.
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About the Author
Sybille Bedford (1911–2006) was born Sybille von Schoenebeck in Charlottenburg, Germany, to an aristocratic German father and a partly Jewish, British-born mother. Raised variously in Germany, Italy, France, and England, she lived with her mother and Italian stepfather after her father’s death when she was seven, and was educated privately. Encouraged by Aldous Huxley, Bedford began writing fiction at the age of sixteen and went on to publish four novels, all influenced by her itinerant childhood among the European aristocracy: A Legacy (1956), A Favourite of the Gods (1963), A Compass Error (1968), and Jigsaw (1989, short-listed for the Booker Prize). She married Walter Bedford in 1935 and lived briefly in America during World War II, before returning to England. She was a prolific travel writer, the author of a two-volume biography of her friend Aldous Huxley, and a legal journalist, covering nearly one hundred trials. In 1981 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire.
Brenda Wineapple’s books include Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848–1877 and White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship, and a 2014 Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Wineapple lives in New York City with her husband, the composer Michael Dellaira.
What People are Saying About This
Portrays the evolution of Nazism and Fascism where it really took placeóin living rooms and kitchens and on beaches.
One of the very best novels I have ever read.
A wittily-told tale of drawing-room intrigue, political guile, and personal failure in preñWorld War I Germany.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 2005 when I read and loved a quartet of novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard, dedicated to Sybille Bedford, I started looking for her books. This is a novel written in the 50s about three turn of the century European families and how their different styles bring them to grief when they intermarry. I liked it, though it¿s quite opaque. I wasn¿t sure I understood everyone¿s motivations since they¿re mostly implied.
Sybille Bedford (1911-2006) was born into an aristocratic German family before World War I, and lived long enough to publish a rather brilliant memoir called "Quicksands" in 2005. "A Legacy" was her first published novel, from 1956, and is said to be largely autobiographical, but I thought it was disappointing and rather "tough going" in parts."A Legacy" features a first person narrator who seems to know an awfully lot about the internal lives of characters born a generation or more before her - improbably so. Bedford writes some clever dialogue (reminiscent of an Ivy Compton-Burnett novel), but it is interspersed with undeveloped characters in an unnecessarily complicated family drama. There's some wit about the follies of the bourgeoisie in Pre-World War I Europe. In the better parts, it reminded me of a Germanic "Galsworthy Saga." But there's just too much missing. It's like watching a foreign language film without subtitles. And I gave up caring at all about the characters about half-way through. Moreover, the whole narrative structure seems faulty to me.
I was interested in the historical backdrop to the novel and in the characters' relationship to the events of the times. However, I thought the author's writing style was plodding and clumsy, perhaps because English was not her native language. The dialogue often confused me because it was so impressionistic and truncated. Lastly, I couldn't relate to any of the main characters; they didn't come to life for me.
You'll need to read this book at least twice to figure out what's going on. I read 75 pages before I figured out the character's names and how they're related to each other. Even then, I don't think I got it exactly right. Several people die in this story, and the ending should have been emotional. But, I was too confused to be invested in the characters so it was disappointing. I do have a feeling that this book would get better the more times you read through it.