I came across a review of this book in one of a dozen issues of the New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review I found at a garage sale. Having just finished Fritz Schoenberner’s The Inside Story of an Outsider, which recounts the story of a German writer exiled from Nazi Germany who eventually escapes from France and settles in the United States, I was interested in comparing Natonek’s account of similar experiences.
Unfortunately, an exhaustive search of all the sources I know of turned up not a single copy of this book for sale. There are about a dozen copies held in various university and city libraries, but none available through an online source.
So, not being able to read the book for myself, I will make do by reprinting several of the reviews published when In Search of Myself first came out in 1943.
Louis Adamic, in the Saturday Review:
Natonek is that rarest of creatures, a terrific individualist to whom other people’s individualities have as much right to exist as his own. To him, human standardization, the concept of the ‘average man,’ is dangerous. It is only through being what each is meant to be, doing what each can do, that the individual contributes fully to the community….
“My minimum task is to start again from scratch … transform myself, not superficially, but completely, inside and out.”
It is this basic lack of vanity, this grasp of life as function and relationship rather than formula and mold, this perception that communal value accrues through the development of the unique, this acceptance of responsibility toward the group as toward oneself–it is this rare sense of balance that gives the book its richness and deep honesty…
“Tell me how you treat a refugee, and I will diagnose your political and moral health.”
Sober and profound, the book is also witty and imaginative, full of marvelous episodes and sketches: the landlady versus the briefcase locked in the closet; the art dealer driven into gluttony by the idea of Europe’s starving millions; the wonderful old Repairer of Fine Clock and Watches. The sense of fantasy is strong in Natonek’s dreams, and in the episode of the fur peddlers who sat on him when he said he was looking for the Wandering Jew….
Of Hans Natonek’s In Search of Myself, we might say that it records the first impressions of Americans, as observed by an intelligent foreigner during the first years of a questing adjustment. But we have had that before–this is different. The difference lies in the approach. It is that of a sensitive man without means, distinguished at home but unknown here, critical of the “successism” he finds here, stubbornly determined to have no part in it. Sensitized would be a better word, for this well known European writer (Prague his birthplace) has long trained himself to perceive real values in personal and social life and spurn the spurious. Urged to “get busy, forget the past, embrace the new,” and change himself overnight into the mere simulacrum of an American, he refuses. This book contains the reasons, and much besides, in pungent and penetrating comment.
New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, 7 November 1943:
When Hitler burned the books he garnered himself a little heap of gray ashes, but the sparks from that futile fire swirled over Europe and across the seas, kindling the creative fury and eloquence of men and women whose words will long outlive whatever oblivion awaits his ranting. Hans Natonek is one voice in that growing chorus, and In Search of Myself–an impressionistic autobiography, deeply moving in what it says and definitely captivating in its style–he has revealed himself, his reactions and his hopes with candor, detachment and wit. Here is a story that will make every American see his country a little more clearly and teach him to understand a little more profoundly what it represents to those driven out of Europe. At the same time, Mr. Natonek says a few things about this country, and about New York life in particular, which it will do us no harm to hear. He is a man of tact, but he is amused–and his thrusts are to the point.
Mr. Natonek was born in Prague, educated in Vienna and Berlin. He left Paris ahead of the German invaders and reached the United States two years ago. A journalist and writer of fiction, he naturally felt that being an exile did not automatically blot out his vocation, and he describes with gentle irony the desperate attempts which well meaning bureaus and individuals put forth to train him for industry or some line of business. The fact that he preferred the rigors of poverty to the stimulation of the lathe made him a problem, and he rather enjoyed the bewilderment he created.
And so Hans Natonek wandered about this strange city and saw it with fresh and sensitive eyes. There are many pages in this book which sing, and they will bring veteran dwellers of Manhattan refreshment of mind.
If anyone reading this happens to locate a copy of In Search of Myself, please let me know, as I’m still interested in reading it.
In Search of Myself, by Hans Natonek
New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1943