Dresden

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Toward the end of his life, aristocratic British aesthete and musician Lord Berners (1883–1950) wrote a series of memoirs of his youth. Deceptively slim, they are subtle reflections on apprehending the variety of the world, and on how to find pleasure in it. The Chateau de Resenlieu described his first foray abroad, to study French—a liberation from the constraints of a British childhood home that cordoned off the slightest thrill. Dresden, now being published for the first time, recounts a rockier route to happiness, but with a similarly light touch.

Written soon after World War II, Dresden shows Berners attempting to reclaim the Germany he had learned to appreciate. The author traveled there in 1901, at age 17, for more language “cramming” with dubious teachers. He carried a typically British ambivalence about the Germans: admiration for Goethe and Wagner, reservations about a perceived tendency to regimentation and cruelty. Dresden, he recalls, was shrouded in an off-putting “fug.” But after increasingly puckish encounters with German and British oddballs in the Harz mountains and then in refined Weimar, Berners came to revel in the country’s amiable coziness.

Berners effortlessly resurrects his youthful naïvete and wit, offering up earthy but urbane sketches of physiognomy and manners. “Her flounces and furbelows gave her the air of a prize cabbage at a village flower show,” he writes of a fellow lodger. Throughout, the descriptions are funny, strange and—because even truly distasteful encounters are handled with glee—full of pleasure. Despite the book’s age, it’s easy to imagine his lordship describing the person next to you on the subway. For that reason, Dresden is more than a literary curiosity; it is a primer in delight that will turn a day’s commute or two into a rejuvenating journey.

Buy Dresden now on BN.com

By Lord Berners. Turtle Point, $9.95 paperback.