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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The story takes place in the waning days of the Kaiser's rule, pre-WWI, in a society that seems to be desperately trying to avoid the instability in central Europe that finally led to the First World War. Two German families linked by an ill-fated marriage live a life that seems unimaginable to us in modern times. One Jewish, one Catholic, both wealthy, insular and largely idle, the characters spend their days moving from place to place--France, Spain, Germany, collecting art and antiques, taking air during daily carriage rides, eating what seem to be endless meals, and expecting the world to go on as it has forever. A relatively minor event--the decison to send a child to a military prep school, results in personal tragedy but also national crisis--which could only have happened in a society about to fall apart. I found this book a compelling look at a world and a society I know little about--and Bedford's prose is wonderful.
I had read about Sybille Bedford and her writings.I know that of late there has been a revival of interest in her work. I was prepared to like this book. But I was disappointed. I will assume the problem is with me, not the book. That said, while some aspects of the place and time are well-sketched, I do not think any of the characters was well-developed. We see Jules, Clara, Sarah etc. in a number of different settings/situations over a period of several years but I did not feel that I came to know them nor did they interest me greatly. I should add that the significance of some of the main plot points completely eluded me. Without spoiling the book for those who haven't read it, I will just cite as an example a letter that is not delivered to its intended recipient. I could tell that this was intended to be one of the cruxes of the plot. However, why the character entrusted with the letter didn't deliver it and what would have happened had he done so--points I am sure the author...
Trough the life and times of two German families at the beginning of the last century, Sybille Bedford recreates an European world lost to globalization. It was a world where each country, -each region in fact- had a particular way of seeing life, and an authentic life style. Bedford's elegant and personal prose is really original, but this book shares the spirit of Margerite Yourcenar's memories of her own ancestors. Such a beautiful and clever book!
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