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"I was on my way to look for a life of my own."
A brilliant, brutally honest autobiographical novel, long out of print, from one of the great artistic polymaths of the 20th century.
This is a Sebaldian account of the narrator's attempt to break free of a repressive upper-middle-class upbringing and make his way as an artist and individual, written in a single incantatory paragraph.
Leavetaking is the story of an upper-middle-class childhood and adolescence in Berlin between the wars. In the course of the book, Weiss plumbs the depths of family life: there is the early death of his beloved sister Margit, the difficult relationship with his parents, the fantasies of adolescence and youth, all set in the midst of an increasing anti-Semitism, which forces the Weiss family to move again and again, a peripatetic existence that only intensifies the narrator's growing restlessness.
The young narrator is largely oblivious to world events and focused instead on becoming an artist, an ambition frustrated generally by his milieu and specifically by his mother, who, herself a former actress, destroys his paintings during one of the family's moves. In the end, he turns to an older mentor, Harry Haller, a fictionalized portrait of Hermann Hesse, who encouraged and supported Weiss, and with Haller's example before him, the narrator takes his first steps towards a truly independent life. Intensely lyrical, written with great imaginative power, Leavetaking is a vivid evocation of a world that has disappeared and of the narrator's developing consciousness.
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for all that was sterile and petrified. I had already lost a decade in this reality, in the domain of school, where during endless hours my senses had been deadened. The threat that I should have to go out into life meant merely a continuation of my long wandering through classrooms and echoing corridors. There, after all, we had been prepared, for proficiency and responsibility, as it was called, by teachers whose spirits had given out. These long stony passages, in which rows of animal-smelling
terrible embrace. I shouted for forgiveness and he shouted disconnected words, and he no more knew why he was beating me than I knew why I was being beaten, it was a ritual process forced upon us by unknown higher powers. Breathless and covered in perspiration, my father sat there, having spent his strength, and now he had to be consoled and nursed, he had done his duty, now came the reconciliation, now came the artificial family peace, my mother ran to join us, and like a single block we lay
apocalyptic landscapes with rustling fires, fleeing animals, drowning and vanishing cities, my visions of the crucified and scourged, of terribly distorted masks and seductive women’s faces. The pictures that arose spread out before us and took us up into their depth, we wandered through the antique cities and rocky wildernesses, the ruined halls and enchanted gardens. Jacques built even more into these landscapes. Everywhere we found forms, sounds, concordances. At times we were caught up in
streets were hung with black flags and muted drums were beaten and a coffin was borne to the grave on a mount through the ranks of the silent crowds. There I stand before alien doors, speak brokenly in a foreign tongue, ask for a room, am led by strangers down corridors where the air is stale and stuffy. I intrude upon these strangers, force my way into their apartments, I have never seen these people before, and they know nothing about me and I expect them to give me a room. These fat women,
keeping in time with their flashing, crashing instruments. Once, we found ourselves caught up in a crowd that had assembled in a square. All eyes were directed upward to a large house. High up on the walls a man was climbing. Someone said, Human fly. I asked Augusta what that was, a human fly. She did not know. It seemed to me some sort of profession, a rare and unusually difficult task to which one would have to devote the whole of one’s life. I felt my palms beginning to sweat, I felt a