The Vienna Paradox
Nonfiction by Marjorie Perloff
The Vienna Paradox is the well-known literary critic Marjorie Perloff’s memoir of growing up in pre-World War II Vienna; her escape to America in 1938 with her upper-middle-class, highly cultured, and largely assimilated Jewish family; and her self-transformation from the German-speaking Gabriele Mintz to the English-speaking Marjorie––a new American girl who also happened to be the granddaughter of Richard Schüller, the Austrian foreign secretary under Chancellor Dollfuss and a special delegate to the League of Nations. Compelling as the story is, it is hardly a conventional memoir. Rather, The Vienna Paradox interweaves biographical anecdote and family history with speculations on the historical development of early 20th-century Vienna as it was experienced by her parents’ generation. Moreover, Perloff explores how the loss of their “high” culture affected the lives of these cultivated refugees in a democratic United States that was and remains deeply suspicious of perceived “elitism.” This is, in other words, an intellectual memoir, both elegant and heartfelt, by one of America’s leading thinkers, a narrative in which literary and philosophical reference is as central as the personal.