Introduction - 'This is who I am'

'The boy labouring over the diaries had a very clear picture of his ideal. “I really belong in a strict civil service family,” he wrote. He longed to be ordinary, simple, disciplined, Prussian and respectable – and

felt himself to fail on all counts.

 

His family was exotic, opulent and artistic where he wanted it to be solid and austere, its cultivation firmly rooted in tradition; and he himself was too complex, too knowing, too dark. “The image that I have of myself in later life”, he wrote gloomily, “is very vague and not at all good.”

 

Even his name was wrong in his eyes. At birth it was not Nikolaus (a good German name) but the Russian Nikolai – invariably shortened by family and friends to ‘Nika’ – and not Pevsner but Pewsner, both derived from ‘Posener’, the label of the Posen Jew.'