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Asylum: A Survivor's Flight from…

Asylum: A Survivor's Flight from Nazi-Occupied Vienna Through Wartime…

by Moriz Scheyer

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I really waffled on how to rate this book. Can some books just not have to be rated? Can they exist outside some sort of rating spectrum? For here we have the memoirs of an Austrian, Jewish, man forced to flee to France after the Anschluss, then subjected to more persecutions, first the micro-aggression pas d'histories attitude he encounters in many of his interactions in French, and then further macro-aggressive Nazi awfulness once the Nazis invade France. Through a combination of good fortune and hard work by members of the French Resistance, Scheyer, his wife, and his non-Jewish housekeeper (who chooses to throw her lot in with the Scheyer's rather than reap the "benefits" of her Aryaness), survive the Nazi regime in France, but not after some close calls and some internments in French concentration camps.

So that's why I have trouble rating it. I can't say I enjoyed reading about how awful human beings can be to each other (and possibly, since my last netgalley book was about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, I need to pick some lighter ARC reads), and I can't say that, either emotionally or stylistically, the memoir made me feel anything, say in the vein of Suite Française, which details some of the same events, such as the occupation and fleeing of Paris. Of course Asylum obviously isn't a book written with a purpose of giving me the feels or entertaining me or anyone else. It's not even written with the intent of educating anyone. It's testimony, but it's dry and a bit dated, and Scheyer isn't that likeable, which actually may be the book's strongest point. When told that he should be suitably grateful, suitably thankful, suitably happy about his release from concentration camps, you can feel his anger and despair burble up to the surface. Why should he be happy, when it's just a trick of luck and connections that got him free? Why should he be happy most of society did nothing and will likely do nothing again if the Nazis and French sympathizers round him up again? Why should he be happy when the call of the day is it's only the Jews? That, that anger and displeasure, will be what I take away from this memoir, in a time when there are calls for certain groups not to be so angry, not to be so strident, not to be so other, just to be like "us" and wait your turn and smile at all the atrocities, big and small, perpetrated by the strong against the weak. Sit down, shut up, don't complain, always smile. Yeah, that worked out so well in the past.

Anger, when we see injustice, is good. Anger is what we need. Thank you Asylum for reminding me of that.

Asylum by Moriz Scheyer went on sale September 27, 2016.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  reluctantm | Jan 17, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316272884, Hardcover)

A recently discovered account of an Austrian Jewish writer's flight, persecution, and clandestine life in wartime France.

As arts editor for one of Vienna's principal newspapers, Moriz Scheyer knew many of the city's foremost artists, and was an important literary journalist. With the advent of the Nazis he was forced from both job and home. In 1943, in hiding in France, Scheyer began drafting what was to become this book. Tracing events from the Anschluss in Vienna, through life in Paris and unoccupied France, including a period in a French concentration camp, contact with the Resistance, and clandestine life in a convent caring for mentally disabled women, he gives an extraordinarily vivid account of the events and experience of persecution.

After Scheyer's death in 1949, his stepson, disliking the book's anti-German rhetoric, destroyed the manuscript. Or thought he did. Recently, a carbon copy was found in the family's attic by P.N. Singer, Scheyer's step-grandson, who has translated and provided an epilogue.

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 25 Jun 2016 13:56:17 -0400)

"A recently discovered account reveals an Austrian Jewish writer's flight, persecution and clandestine life in wartime France,"--NoveList. "'It may be that the way in which the words, the sentences, the pages have been put together is the result of a certain intellectual effort. But their content, their essence, has a quite different source. And that source is a profound emotional anguish. An anguish in which the wretched sufferer is able only to keep repeating the same stammering question: How could it all have happened?' As arts editor for one of Vienna's principal newspapers before the German invasion in 1938, Moriz Scheyer knew many of the city's great artists, from Stefan Zweig and Arthur Schnitzler to Bruno Walter, and was an important literary journalist in his own right. But when the vicious, brutal hands of Nazism grabbed hold of Austria, Scheyer was forced from his position and his home. In 1943, while in hiding at a convent in the Dordogne region of France, Scheyer began drafting what would become this book--his memoir. Tracing events from the Anschluss in Austria through life in Paris, both prewar and under German occupation, the Exodus from Paris, his experiences of a French concentration camp, an escape attempt and contact with the Resistance, and a final, dramatic rescue and clandestine life in the convent, Asylum is tense, raw, and riveting in its immediate perspective and the minute details of those terrifying, endless days. After Scheyer's death in 1949, his stepson--who disliked the book and its emotive anti-German rhetoric--destroyed the manuscript. Or thought he did. Recently a carbon copy was discovered in the family's attic by P. N. Singer, the author's step-grandson, who has translated the work and provided an epilogue."--Dust jacket.… (more)

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