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Translated from German by Anthea Bell

I’ve been rationing myself so as not to come to the end of the Pushkin Classic editions of Zweig’s novellas, but I reckon that the week of the 75th anniversary of his suicide is as fine a week as any to do so.  I also wanted to evaluate this volume, published in 2011, against the critique that Seksik has Zweig level against himself in The Last Days.

In the end, they were all invariably similar to one another: short stories about single-minded passions, irrepressible loves and macabre consequences … His work lit a series of conflagrations in the hearts of his heroes … The characters would attempt to resist their passions and once they relented and gave into them, their guilty consciences prompted them either to turn their backs on life or to lapse into madness.

Actually this is Zweig repeating the accusations of his critics and fellow writers (Klaus Mann and Ernst Weiss are specifically named)  which they used to argue his status as a minor writer.  And yes, they have a case, but those very same qualities are what make Zweig’s novellas compulsive reading for me and numerous others.  Still what about the four novellas in The Governess and Other Stories?

The Miracles of Life (1903), written at the age of 21, clearly demonstrates that the interest in history, that resulted in multiple biographies throughout Zweig’s career, began early. It is set Antwerp in 1566, the year of rebellion and rioting against Spanish rule, which forms the background.  Esther, a Jewish girl previously rescued from a pogrom by a kind-hearted soldier, becomes the subject of a religious painting destined to hang in a Catholic church. A number of passions are evident here: that of the artist for getting his painting  just right; that of both artist and subject for their respective religions (he is Christian, who believes his task is to convert the girl, while she, although having lost all connections to her own religious community, remains passionately attached to the Jewish faith); and finally, the passion that proves fatal, that of the girl for the child, who is the Saviour to her Madonna in the painting. This is the longest and most complex of the stories in this volume, full of atmospheric  historical detail and dramatic irony.  While the painter couldn’t convert the girl, he nevertheless unsuspectingly inflames her with a love for the child. This leads directly to the girl’s death.  For the Jewess, who has rejected the Christian faith,  dies defending a Catholic icon in the aforementioned riots. It’s also fascinating to see the conflict between Christian and Jew taking centre stage, particularly as Zweig never was an observant Jew.

The Governess (1907) is the usual tale of a governess who falls from grace, following her seduction by a member of the famiily she is working for.  Or rather it would be the usual tale except that the episode is described from the uncomprehending viewpoints of her two charges, aged 12 and 13. Their naivety is charming, and it lends a bittersweet charm to their narrative, because, of course, the reader knows where this is heading. That the girls have absolutely no clue of what has happened at that age is incomprehensible to us today, but this is Vienna in the early 20th century, and the disgrace is the governesses’s own. Of course, she must pay the penalty.

Downfall of the Heart (1927) moves us beyond the First World War, when the younger generation had rejected the moral values at play in The Governess. The problem here is that old man Salomonsohn is stuck in the past. The discovery that his daughter is sleeping with one of the three men flirting with her on a family holiday is as a blow to the heart, triggering an obsessive reaction that sees him increasingly withdraw from both wife and daughter.  This is the story that best fits the monomaniacal template of the critique above.  Yet not quite. I usually feel sympathy for the victims of their passions. I felt none for maudling old Salomonsohn.

If I were to describe Did He Do It? (1935-1940) in one word, it would be playful, and that even though it incorporates tragedy and a monomaniacal murderer!  Written sometime during the years Zweig spent in exile in the UK, this is both his homage to Bath, where he spent those happy years, and to the classic British murder mystery.  Obviously I can’t say too much about this, particularly as the ending is left open to interpretation, but there’s no doubt in my mind.  He did do it!

There’s no denying it – all these novellas fit the emotional template quoted above for tragedy is to be found in all walks of life – from the working classes to high society. After all,  human nature is the same regardless of station in life.  Yet Zweig rings the changes with historical settings (from the beginning of the Reformation to the roaring twenties and beyond) and narrative point-of-view (naïve young children, chatty middle-aged women, kindly or otherwise old men). Atmosphere and tone always fit.

Zweig was better writer than his critics have and still do suggest, and for me, reading him is much more enjoyable than reading many an acclaimed masterpiece. Which would explain why Zweig has more shelfspace than any other author in my personal library.

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Stage 5 of my Reading Around the World and Back Again with Pushkin Press project, this post is part of the Pushkin Press Fortnight 2017, organised by Stu of Winstonsdad.

Next stop: Italy

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Translated from French by André Naffis-Sahely

In memoriam Stefan and Lotte Zweig (died 22.02.1942)

One didn’t have to be a genius to imagine what people would say about him.  That he had abandoned others to their pain and deserted when the time had come to fight the enemy. When others had expected him to be an example, a hero even, he had run off like a coward.

Did people hurl such accusations at Stefan Zweig when, together with his wife, he committed suicide 75 years ago today? Do they today? If so, then a reading of Laurent Seksik’s The Last Days might ellicit a more sympathetic response.

Reconstructing the 5 months the Zweigs spent in Petrópolis, Seksik’s narrative, written in alternating 3rd person his and her points-of-view, takes us into the minds of two despondent human beings.  For those who have read Volker Weidermann’s Summer before the Dark, the contrast between the Zweigs of 1936 and those of 1942 is stark.  In 1936 the Zweigs were still in the rosy days of their love affair, his initially self-imposed exile had lasted just two years and he still had sufficient strength and creativity to support his less fortunate friends, both financially and emotionally. They really hadn’t realised how dark the world was to become.  Six years later and that was all too apparent.  Having fled Austria in 1934 (a prescient action, following a search of his home in Salzburg on a trumped-up excuse), and becoming a British citizen, Zweig was nonetheless declared an enemy alien in 1939.  Whereupon he fled again to New York, where he was too well-known, and could get no peace.  Thus another flight to  Petrópolis in 1941.

Lotte, totally besotted with her Great Austrian Writer, followed him.  Due to her chronic asthma, the air in New York was killing her.

The injustice of his being declared an enemy alien preyed on his mind – he was a committed pacifist, had been since 1914, and he never wavered.  Yet the effort of remaining on the higher moral ground was exhausting.  Then the guilt – the guilt of having left his family behind (regardless of the fact they thought him mad when he left of his own accord), imagining their suffering in a world going from bad to worse. Imagine reading reports like these, knowing your kin are trapped, and you are powerless to act:

City authorities in Vienna have decided to cut off all gas supplies to appartments occupied by Jews.  The ever rising number of suicides by gas have inconvenienced the population and such acts will henceforth be considered breaches of public order.

Of course, this was mild in comparison to reports that followed.  But, instead of relief at being safe, torments: survivor guilt, dismay over the deaths and suicides of his author friends (Roth, Toller, Weiss), creative difficulties (everything seemed irrelevant, and the voices of his critics were ringing ever louder in his head), despondency over his world that was lost forever. It would not return even if the Allies were victorious.  Neither was he positioning himself for an afterwards.  As his closest friend in Petrópolis, the journalist Ernst Feder pointed out:

You look for a path through the darkness and wander from country to country with neither children nor a fixed address, and now you’ve buried yourself away in this godforsaken place in the middle of nowhere. Meanwhile Mann proceeds full steam ahead. Mann surrounds himself with people and protects himself. He has placed himself at the crossroads so as to watch all comings and goings, he’s the sun around which everyone revolves. …. Mann is planning his reconquest of the literary world … On the other hand, here you are doing the utmost to disappear.

And disappear he did, following the British defeat at Singapore. Convinced that now it was only a matter of time before the Gestapo would find him in Petrópolis, and totally overcome by world-weariness, he decided his last flight would be the final one.

But why take Lotte with him?  She was only 30 to his 60.  (If I had any accusations against him, it was that.) Seksik’s analysis of Lotte’s psyche is just as incisive as of her husband. She was as psychologically afflicted by the times as her husband.  Chronically ill.  Worn down by exile. With no family of her own, no career of her own, she was even more isolated than Zweig himself.  He literally was her everything.  What was she to do when he made known his intentions?

He didn’t take her with him. Lotte followed him.  Of course she did.

It was a tragedy.  Unnecessary, as we now know, but inevitable, given the darkness of the times and the darkness inherent within Zweig himself.  Seksik incorporates some interesting observations about Zweig’s literary themes as well as a thought-provoking comparison of Kleist and Zweig that suggests an undercurrent I’ve never suspected before now.  I’m sure it will colour my reading as I continue to read through his oeuvre.

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This post is part of the Pushkin Press Fortnight 2017, organised by Stu of Winstonsdad.

Almost a world tour in itself – taking us to Vienna, Austria (pre- and post Anschluss), Bath in Great Britain, New York, USA and Petrópolis, Brazil – this post is also stage 4 in my Around the World and Back Again with Pushkin Press.  We’re staying in Austria for Stage 5 – at keast I think we are.  It depends on where my chosen collection of Zweig’s short stories takes us!

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Summer Before The DarkHow long have I wanted to read this book?  From the minute Thomas reviewed it during German Literature Month 2014. I got really excited when Mel reviewed the English translation by Carol Brown Janeway during German Literature Month 2015. I think that makes it Lizzy’s most anticipated release of 2016.  Thankfully with a January release date (today!), I didn’t have to wait until German Literature Month 2016!

Was it worth the anticipation?  Yes, yes and yes again!

(Editor: Calm down, Lizzy, you’re meant to be reviewing – not gushing.

Lizzy takes deep breathes, and works out how to write the piece without the adjectives, wonderful, fantastic, superlative, etc, etc.

Pause …….. Thinks a bit longer ……. This is tough.)

I’m tempted to leave it there, with an invocation to every fan of Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth and Irmgard Keun to go out, grab a copy and read it now.  Do the same, even if you’re not. You won’t read anything more illuminating about these writers or the extended community of artistic exiles that congregated in Belgium in 1936.  Nor will you read anything faster.  I sat down intending to read just the first chapter.  Next time I looked up, I had turned the final page. (168)

The summer of 1936 was a time for reflection, for working out what to do now that doors were closing in Nazi Germany.  Putting a brave face on it, enjoying the summer, each other’s company in the Café Flore, plenty of drink and a passionate, if extremely puzzling love affair (Roth/Keun).  Their worlds may have been falling apart, yet still they found the wherewithall to write literary masterpieces.  The supportive and collaborative community they formed that summer enabled that.  Weidermann shows how that community came to be, the dynamics involved and just how that period was the summer before the dark.

As a long-time Zweigette ( 😉 ), I offer this book as an antidote to the venom of that article written by Michael Hofmann. (See footnote.).  Yes, Zweig was a multi-millionaire, some of it inherited, most of it earned by his writings.  (He was the best-selling author in the world during his day.) Of course, this gave him a position of privilege.  Yet he used his wealth to support many less fortunate – such as Roth, who he bankrolled for 10 years.  (Think of all the masterpieces that wouldn’t have existed for Hofmann to translate, had Zweig not done that.)

(Editor: Lizzy, behave yourself!  You’re reviewing, not polemicising.

Lizzy: Sorry, Ed, but 6 years later, to the day, I am still outraged.)

The point I’m making is that Weidermann’s portrait of Zweig is sympathetic, a response to those who think him insincere, or a non-entity in terms of world literature.  In fact, Weidermann shows how much of a hand Zweig had in the some of Roth’s work.  (And vice versa.)

Now for a confession.  I’m not particularly fond of Roth or Keun as writers.  This statement is based purely on having read a single book by each: The Radeztsky March and The Artificial Silk Girl. But having now “met” the people behind the pens, I’m curious to read more, particularly the books they wrote during that summer of 1936: Roth – Confession of A Murderer; Keun – After Midnight, and, of course, Zweig – The Buried Candelabrum. Also Britta Böhler’s The Decision, a contemporary novel about Thomas Mann, who at this time in 1936, had not yet made his stand against Nazi Germany, and was ridiculed for it by the exiles in Ostend.

(Editor: Lizzy! I commissioned a review, not a reading list!

Lizzy: Sorry Ed, I don’t know how to review non-fiction without simply reiterating book content, and this book is so much more than a stand-alone read for me.  For a while I’ve been intending to delve deeper into the literature of this period. I have found my springboard and I shall be diving in for the rest of the year.  But as you insist on a final verdict ….. )

Absolutely fab-u-lous! (A modest amount of gushing is allowed, isn’t it?)

5stars.GIF

(Footnote: I refuse to link to it but search for Vermicular Dither if you must.)

 

 

 

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I cannot let Pushkin Press Fortnight pass without profuse thanks to Pushkin Press for its dedication to bringing the works of Stefan Zweig back into the anglophone consciousness  I’ve written about his wonderful short stories here and here.  Zweig was also a prolific non-fiction writer and Pushkin Press has been republishing many of his fine biographies in recent years. Of course I’ve been collecting them.  It was Zweig’s biography of Mary, Queen of Scots, Maria Stuart, that accompanied my move from Germany to Scotland many years ago.

Today, however, I will concentrate on the first piece in the volume Mental Healers: Mesmer, Eddy, Freud.  Zweig’s portrayal of Franz Anton Mesmer is highly sympathetic, showing his subject to be an honourable philanthropic man, whose destiny was of one born out of the due time.  His theory of “animal magnetism” involved, after he had dispensed with the use of magnets, the transference of energy from himself to his patients and the induction of a psychological crisis beneficial to healing.   I’m using Mesmer’s vocabulary there which even now sounds outlandish, perhaps a little uncanny.  With alternative therapies still struggling for professional acceptance in our modern world, it’s no wonder the 18th-century Viennese establishment hounded him from the city, the scandal of the blind pianist being the final straw.

Zweig is at pains to point out that Mesmer was a bona fide physician and was not indulging in quackery.  He practised according to a method even if he couldn’t explain it sufficiently to his detractors.  But did he heal the pianist Maria Theresia Paradies as he claimed? Zweig is even-handed in this regard pointing out that she never saw again once she had left his care.  And yet there is report written by her father, who was eventually bullied into removing his daughter from Mesmer’s hospital, which contains so poignant a description of the gradual rediscovery of the world of light ….. it would need a greater imaginative writer and psychologist than either poor old Herr Paradies or the practical minded Mesmer to invent such subtle observations and artificially to excogitate what the patient is alleged to  have said about her psychological moods.

That invention or reimagination is the core of Alissa Walser’s Mesmerized.  Reading over the contemporaneous report quoted in Zweig’s essay, I am convinced it was source material for the novel, which is also sympathetic to Mesmer, while at the same time showing human imperfection here and there. Walser does what Zweig cannot (at least in an essay).  She takes us into into the minds of both Mesmer and his patient using broken sentences.  Staccato phrases. An indirect stream of consciousness, which is not dissimilar to the voice within my own head.  No surprise, then, that I liked it … very much.  The story is made even more interesting by the addition of two female characters; Mesmer’s renegade maid, Kaline, and his older wife.  Zweig mentions the latter but only in her role as a rich widow.  Walser shows the frustrations she must have experienced as she and Mesmer were increasingly shunned by Viennese society and also the irony of a man who could manage the hysteria of his patients but not the passionate outbursts of his wife.  

Mesmer was also an accomplished musician and, as such, understood the effects of music on mood and well-being.  Could it have been the effects of sound waves on the human psyche that convinced Mesmer of the existence of other invisible energies, the energy he called “animal magnetism”?  Do we have another name for it now?  The irony is that mesmerism (hypnosis) was unknown to Mesmer!  Zweig explains Mesmer was a forerunner, tapping into new knowledge but not fully understanding it himself.  It was one of his French followers, Puységur, who made the breakthrough and opened the doors to psychoanalysis.

Now that’s a fascinating subject in itself and I look forward to reading the other essays in Zweig’s collection.  More relevant to this blog, however, is the reading trail that leads from Mesmer and Puységur directly to the German Romantics. To quote Zweig once more: Romance was no longer to be sought under druidical oak trees, or in the world of the “little folk”; extraordinary adventures could now find their setting in the sublunary sphere between dreaming and waking, between willing and compulsion. He mentions such literary luminaries as Kleist, Hoffmann, Tieck, Bretano, who pressed forward to the exploration of the bizarre, fantastic, and gruesome realm.  Given that my book of 2013 explored similar terrain, and left me wanting more, this is a path that I shall meander along for a little while longer.

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Grüß Gott, Österreich ! Stand up and take a bow.  For once we are letting the Austrian penmanship take precedence over the German language in which these stories are written.  Austria, home of the beautiful Tyrol, scrumdidiliumptious Sachertorte (cue gratuitous photo of a young (skinny) Lizzy eating piece in the Hotel Sacher a good many moons ago)  and my first German language teacher.  So there you go.    Nostalgia trip over.  Onto the literature ….

… and another hit for the Penguin Mini Moderns with the discovery of yet another author whose writing I shall explore in more depth. Robert Musil’s eponymous Flypaper, probably the strongest piece of prose  in this post (and given what’s coming, that’s quite a compliment).  At only 3.25 pages it’s very short and the sharp lucid observations in it typical of many pieces in this collection.  Of flies, newly trapped on poisonous flypaper:

Here they stand all stiffly erect, like cripples pretending to be normal, or like decrepit old soliders (and a little bowlegged, the way you stand on a sharp edge).  They hold themselves upright, gathering strength and pondering their position.

It is a hopeless situation and one, which Musil’s pen renders hypnotic and impossible to turn from.  Other species are given similar treatment:  sheep, monkeys, birds.  Homo sapiens finds himself the subject of Musil’s knowing, sometime cynical reflections.  Of tourists drawn to famous places, they already look forward to the memories.  He’s not wrong.  I like being there, seeing and tasting that.  I particularly loved sampling the authentic Sachertorte in Vienna and have had great pleasure ever since trying to find a recipe that comes close.  I haven’t found it yet but I shan’t give up trying!

Translated by Peter Wortsman

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 When in Austria, this blog is never far from the short stories of Stefan Zweig. As long as Pushkin keep publishing, I shall keep reading. Wondrak and Other Stories  is quite different in tone to other collections. It’s much more serious and quite likely to prove divisive depending on where you stand with regard to war and the rights of the individual against the state.  Zweig was a life-long pacificist and these stories contain an underlying passion that I’ve not felt in his fiction before.    In The Snow relates the tragic story of a community of Jews who freeze to death while attempting to escape a medieval pogrom.  Written in 1901, it feels remarkably prescient of what was to follow later in the twentieth century.  Compulsion, based on Zweig’s own experiences in Switzerland, records the bitter disputes that arise in a marriage between two pacifists when the draft order is received and the man suddenly feels forced to obey it.  We’ve spoken before of  Zweig’s ability to get into the mind of a woman.  Here Paula’s feelings can only be described as raw …

“But no”, she said, “I won’t lie.  I may be too cowardly to do it.  Millions of women have been too cowardly when their husbands and children were dragged away – not one of them did what she ought to have done.  Your cowardice poisons us.  What will I do if you go away?  Weep and wail and go to church and ask God to let you off with some light kind of service.  And then perhaps I’ll mock men who didn’t go.  Anything is possible these days.”

No one can accuse Ruzena, the disfigured woman in who lives alone in the forest with her only son, of that kind of cowardice  The story is an explicit exploration of state ownership.  From the child’s birth, his mother instinctively feels the threat of the state, characterised in Wondrak, a bureaucrat who ensures that citizens perform the necessary duties.  When he forces Ruzena to register her child’s existence, it is the first in a series of formalities designed to separate mother and son.

Now he was hers, all hers but if those people in the offices, if the State and the Mayor wrote his name in one of their stupid books, a part of the baby as a human being would belong to them.  They would have got a grip on his ankle so to speak, they could summon him and order him about.

Her worst fears prove accurate and the First World War forces her and her son into open acts of defiance.  Quite how it turns out for them remains unknown as the story remained unfinished.  Zweig probably didn’t know how to resolve it to his satisfaction because the state definitel had the upper had at the point where he stopped writing.  Depressing but very thought-provoking.

Translated by Anthea Bell

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Daniel Kehlmann has dual nationality – German and Austria. Hence, the inclusion of his latest publication, Fame with its subtitle A Novel in Nine Episodes in this post. There’s always something tongue-in-cheek about Kehlmann and you’ve got to ask whether he’s having a go at his own literary celebrity in this piece.  If he is, he’s not whinging about it.

In the first story the mobile phone number of a famous author, known only as Ralf,  is mistakenly assigned to the new phone of Elbing, a working class man.   The results are comic as Elbing takes a number of calls from Ralf’s acquaintances.  At first he is bemused but gradually he begins to enjoy being called by Ralf’s various love interests and playing fast and loose with them.  Other stories pick up the literary refrains and the theme of loss of identity to technology  In one an old woman – a fictional character –  begs her author for mercy and the right to live.  In another an author is stranded in a country when her mobile phone fails.  Another author, a pretentious so and so, begins to write

a novel without a protagonist!  A structure, the connections, a narrative arc, but no main character, no hero advancing throughout

It seems that this is a statement of Kehlmann’s intent.  Characters and motifs reappear at intervals during the sequence of stories providing a loose-knit continuity that circles around until we eventually discover the consequences of the misallocated phone number in story one.  The character sketches are vivid but remain mere sketches; a constraint imposed by Kehlmann’s non-structure, which, to be honest, I found tricksy,  not very engaging and definitely not a novel.

I tolerated the conceits of Kehlmann’s characters but if there’s a serious point being made, it was lost on me.  Not on Alberto Manguel, however.  Did we read the same book?

What did strike me, however, is this.  Kehlmann is now of a similar age to Zweig when he was writing the anti-war stories of Wondrak and Other Stories.  No further comment needed as to the superficiality of our times.

 Translated by Carol Brown Janeway

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Excited?  Moi?  Only hyperventilatingly so!  Well, it’s not every day you get to meet the person with more words in my library than anyone else (I have about 30 Anthea Bell translations)  talking about the author with more volumes in my library than any other (about 20).  What a way to end a festival!

Now my book bag is a legend in the making …. it is, really ….  it would have held all 30 Bell translations … but my shoulders aren’t that strong.  In the end I settled for a modest dozen to take for signature: All the Pushkin Press titles, so a goodly collection of Zweig, Schnitzler and Hoffman plus my copy of Julia Franck’s The Blind Side of the Heart, signed by the author in Edinburgh.   The question was would the translator sign them all?

The  event had been assigned to the Roberts Burn Library (an honour in Scotland surely) and I was heartened to find that it was busy. It’s not often I’ll take a front row seat but I wanted the best seat in the house for this event.  The lady was waiting for us as we took our seats, immersed in her translation of Zweig’s memoir of The World of Yesterday.  I was prepared – books for signing, check.  Camera charged, check.  Notebook and pen ….. notebook and pen ….. scrabbling frantically to bottom of book bag ….. notebook and pen.  Nope.  Lizzy, you numbskull! 

All notes from here on in are from memory, so I listened extra carefully as Bell talked without pause and  without a manuscript for 45 minutes.

Bell’s interest in Zweig was triggered when she translated a volume of Freud for Penguin.  It sparked a fascination with the period and led her to the works of Stefan Zweig.  The World of Yesterday is the most recent of her Zweig translations for Pushkin Press and it’s more memoir than autobiography.  In fact she said it’s quite a shock when Zweig mentions his wife on page 300-and-something.  In it he captures the prudery of pre-WWI Viennese society – she read the experience of Zweig’s aunt, who on her wedding night returned home to her parents because that horrible man she had married had wanted to take her clothes off!  Zweig captures that prudery in his novellas Burning Secret and The Governess.  (Latter to be published later this year.)  Zweig had a privileged life, he had money and he used it to travel extensively, for education. During his lifetime he was a literary phenomenon – one of the most famous and beloved authors on the planet.  He was a gentleman and a Jew by blood but not by practice.  This, however, did not protect him and he left Austria for the UK when he fled from the Nazis.  The separation led to the breakdown of his first marriage.  His exile eventually led him to Brazil where he and his second wife famously committed suicide only 1 week after delivering the manuscript of The World Of Yesterday to his publisher.

Why?  No one really knows – there was no suicide note.  Bell’s theorises that Zweig knew that his world – the European world of gentlemanly privilege – had disappeared forever.  It wasn’t his realisation of the extent of  Nazi atrocity against his fellow Jews.  That hadn’t come to light in 1942 and that was, she said,  a mercy for Zweig.

Her discourse was peppered with literary tangents in which she recommended Salley Vickers’s  When Three Roads Meet, in her opinion I (and mine)  the best of the Canongate myths series and unsurprisingly, Edith Grossman’s Why Translation Matters.  She was whooping to herself as she read it.

The most important thing is not a literary translation but capturing the voice of the author and ensuring that the English flows naturally – even when the translation involves a 9-page Selbaldian sentence!  To finalise the translated text, she always reads through her translation without recourse to the original.    Translating living authors is easier – you can always ask them when you get stuck!  Zweig often challenges her with his favourite adjective,  dumpf which can mean vague, hollow, dull, gloomy, sombre. Which one had he in mind this time? (It’s usually sombre.)

The hour flew by and it was time to haul my book bag to the signing area.  I didn’t push to the front – I waited patiently until the queue had died down. .  Anthea Bell very patiently signed them all …… 

and chatted to me further about German literature in general and other Zweig-related trivia. Here are a few book-signing additional extras:

– she hasn’t (yet) translated her favourite Zweig novella – 24 Hours in the Life of A Woman – but there are plans to do so

– she has been commissioned to translate Julia Franck’s first novel

– she was translating Julia Franck’s The Blind Side of the Heart and Rami Schafik The Dark Side of Love at the same time and got the papers mixed-up

–  she loves E T A Hoffman

– and, finally, she is incredibly gracious.   I just had to ask her what she thought of Michael Hoffmann’s infamous vermicular dithering. (Zweigites will understand.)  I promised not to reveal on the blog and I won’t but her answer did her enormous credit.

I came home and, as you do,  immediately dived into another Anthea Bell translated Zweig

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The Zweig Pile

 Pushkin Press has been busy commissioning new translations of Zweig novellas and stories and autobiographies during the last few years and Lizzy has been busy collecting and reading them.  Why?  For all the wrong reasons, if you give credence to this piece of vitriol.  Let me list a couple.

1) “Nice paper and pretty formats”.   I see no problem with books as objets d’art and Pushkin do produce a lovely objet.  Whether it be their now classic square format or their beautiful full colour painting style .  This latter now my favourite  and I do wonder if  Hofman has taken a dislike to the format of his latest translation.

2) “Monodrama”.   Frankly, I don’t read Zweig for intellectual stimulus but when I want to feel, I willingly immerse myself  into the emotional crisis of one Zweig’s characters. They are intense – it’s interesting  but the only Zweig I haven’t enjoyed is his  full-length novel.  The moral crisis went on for far long.  In the end I was bored.  Such intensity, on the other hand is strengthened in the short story or novella format and that’s where Zweig is at his best.

As for instance, in the latest standalone novella, Fear, the story of Irene Wagner, a wife and mother who is bored in her comfortable 8-year old marriage. She embarks on an affair only to find herself blackmailed by her lover’s former mistress.  Irene is forced to reassess her motives, her lover and her husband but the situation means that she cannot do this with a clear head.  Gradually the icy tentacles of fear tighten their grip and just when her mind capitulates and the outcome becomes obvious, a twist.  All is not as it seems and I don’t think I’ve seen Zweig do this before but the clues are there.  See if you get there before he does.  I did but that didn’t detract from my pleasure.  No-one writes a woman’s mind as well as Zweig.

Selected Stories is an anthology of stories previously published by Pushkin in a number of smaller volumes.  It contains 6 stories and novellas, 5 from the 1920’s and one from 1906.  This latter story, The Fowler Snared, a little out of place, not reaching the pitch or the standard of the other 5:  Fantastic Night, Letter from an Unknown Woman, The Invisible Collection, Buchmendel, Twenty-four Hours in the Life of A Woman.  These are all typical Zweig containing an emotional epiphany; some short-lived – a few hours (The Invisible Collection),  a day (Fantastic Night, Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of A Woman);  some sustained over years (Letter from an Unknown Woman). There are examples of Zweig describing the situation from both a male and a female point-of-view and he’s good at getting inside his protagonist’s heads.  There are also two stories in which he introduces a third person as narrator.  This outsider looking-in instead of  distancing the reader from the impact actively magnifying it.  Tellingly too, both stories deal with the social issues, not personally-inflicted crises,  In Buchmendel,  the title character  runs his rare book business from a cafe table.  He is a “magical walking book catalogue” and his clientele include the rich and famous.  It is his misfortune, however, to be Russian-born Jew and a period of internment during WWI, cut off from his beloved books, breaks his spirit.  Returning from internment to rising inflation and growing anti-semitism, Buchmendel’s defeat is a foregone conclusion.  So took is the downfall of the art collector in The Invisible Collection – the angle here is that he doesn’t know it  Blindness may have taken his sight but he is still capable of stroking and appreciating the detail of the works that he has collected over the years. What he doesn’t realise is that, in order to live, his family have slowly been selling off his pieces in order to feed themselves during the years of post World War I inflation and have substituted his pictures, engravings and lithographs with blank sheets of canvas.  The  illusion keeps him happy proving that beauty is in the mind’s eye of the beholder.  In the word’s of Goethe, “Collector’s are happy people” ….

and my Zweig collection means you can count me among them, no vermicular dither about it!

Fear

Selected Stories

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