This book is an extended elegy for the death of history, literature, and Europe ...There is an honesty that burns through this work. It wants to but can’t be serious. It is the funniest elegy I’ve ever read. It is perhaps at its best when it is imitating bad writing, i.e. commercial novels and films. These imitations are vaudevillian, grotesque, and vulgar, like mean-spirited playground bullying. They occur in a postmodern world beyond the distinction of high and low culture, where intellectuals are frauds who are just as narrow as the philistines they disdain, and where literature devolves into caricature, because the novelist can’t seriously claim to transcend himself and represent humanity ... This book is as much a novel as it is a repudiation and critique of novel-writing. It is explicit about its attempt to reinvent the novel. As I have tried to make clear, nothing about this novel is transparent ... As much as it wants to please the reader, and succeeds in doing so, this book also intends to hurt.
The book’s style, ambition and playful attitude brings up questions about the function of the novel, and the slipperiness of reality ... The novel’s slipperiness is its point, its message. It is an attempt to come to terms with what remains, or indeed doesn’t remain, after the ravages of fascism ... Abel and Cain serves to remind us of the cost of this devastation, one that will be total. And so Rezzori reaches out to us from a near-forgotten Europe to warn us of both the past and the future, to remind us that we have already lost the world once and we cannot afford to lose it again.
... too discursive to summarize, and I’m sure that Rezzori, or at least his narratorial ambassador, would accept the charge of plotlessness with pride ... fat with cliché-curdled reflections on the violence implicit in fiction ... There is no doubt that Rezzori is an important writer, maybe even a great one. He is well worth reading for the pleasure of his tangled language alone. Memoirs of an Anti-Semite, his best-known book, merits its reputation as a tour de force. But Subicz is a mean-spirited mouthpiece ... The book is salvaged, insofar as it is salvaged, by its occasional outbursts of love—and by the feats of observation that love can sometimes occasion ... a nine-hundred-page book can vindicate its self-importance only if it succeeds as an aesthetic exercise. As Rezzori noted with despairing jealousy, Musil’s tomes pass the test. But Abel and Cain cannot justify the demands that it makes on its readers. It is often beautiful, but it is frequently as kitschy as a cuckoo clock. Subicz shamelessly mythologizes 'a Europe that might still be European'—but I doubt if this European Europe was really so golden for everyone. Better rain than the brutal—and banal—luminescence of Hitler weather.
Von Rezzori’s book is episodic, with stories sometimes breaking off in the middle, always with an odd poetry...that finds beauty even in the most terrible destruction. A challenging consideration of a murderous history by a knowing witness.
The sense of stylistic continuity between the two halves of the book is impressive given that three translators had a hand in producing it. Marshall Yarbrough has updated Joachim Neugroschel’s original translation of Abel, bringing it closer to the German original while coaxing previously brittle passages into a more supple prose; it fits seamlessly with David Dollenmayer’s translation of Cain ... dense, ornate prose ... The passages describing life before the war are melancholy and obsessive: Rezzori’s descriptions overflow as if he is desperate not to consign any detail to oblivion ... Though Rezzori’s work has often been described as nostalgic, this is something different from nostalgia – not a wistfulness for the past but a sense of it as a relentless weight to carry in the present.
This omnibus volume...is a masterpiece of excess ... 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. These new translations breathe life into von Rezzori’s ambitious and exhausting epic.