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"The city lies somewhere in the godforsaken southeastern part of Europe and is named Czernopol," Gregor von Rezzori writes in the prelude to this major early novel, the first part of a trilogy based on the author's childhood that would grow to include some of his finest work: the scintillating memoir The Snows of Yesteryear and the trickily titled novel Memoirs of an Anti-Semite. In The Ermine of Czernopol, Rezzori summons the disorderly and unpredictable energies of a town where everything in the world is seemingly mixed up together, a multicultural society that existed long before the idea of multiculturalism. The novel, ostensibly centered on the curious tragicomic fate of an Austrian officer of supreme ineffectuality, gathers a host of unlikely characters and their unlikelier stories by way of engaging the reader in a kaleidoscopic experience of a city where nothing is as it appears-a city of discordant voices, of wild ugliness and sometimes heartbreaking disappointment, but in which, for all that, "laughter was everywhere, part of the air we breathed, a crackling tension in the atmosphere, always ready to erupt in showers of sparks or discharge itself in thunderous peals."
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