Memoir — From the September 2013 issue

Othello’s Son

A racial education

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It was on some early excursion from our backwater district in Vienna to the elegant center of the city that I saw him. I was about seven, reaching up to hold the hand of my tall father, but much taller still was he, this magnificent shape looming up before us: a fairy-tale giant with a silver feather topping a sky-blue cap and a sky-blue tunic that had diamonds for buttons and epaulettes flaming golden on heroic shoulders. But what made the apparition truly fabulous was his face. It gleamed as black as his hand, which held two white gloves.

And like a magic-lantern slide there flashed into my mind the illustration I’d glimpsed not long before in an open book at my friend Karly’s house. I didn’t know what kind of book, but I remembered the words under that gorgeous portrait now become flesh before my eyes — General Othello.

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’s books include A Nervous Splendor: Vienna, 1888–1889; Thunder at Twilight: Vienna, 1913–1914; and The Rothschilds.

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