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The Collected Novellas of Stefan Zweig. Book Review

March 6, 2016

Novellas

Stefan Zweig is a writer I have only recently discovered thanks to Pushkin Press which has been steadily publishing his work. Zweig was born in the late nineteenth century into a wealthy Austrian-Jewish family but was eventually forced to flee Austria in 1934 as the Nazi’s began to make their presence felt. Indeed the plight of European Jews can be found described with great poignancy within the body of his work.

The Collected Novellas of Stefan Zweig contains five of his novellas, ‘Burning Secret’, ‘A Chess Story’, ‘Fear’, ‘Confusion’ and ‘Journey into the Past’.

‘Burning Secret’ is a cat and mouse game conducted by a boy and a man pursuing the boy’s mother for a casual romantic interlude. The story is related from the perspectives of the mother, the man and the boy. These shifts in perspective increase the tension and a growing sense of frustration for each party. As the man refers to the woman as his ‘prey’ it is clear to the reader his attentions are far from chivalrous, but this is not obvious to the other participants of the narrative. Although the boy is too young to understand how he is being manipulated by his mother’s paramour, or know exactly what is going on between the adults, he is aware something is not right. Thus begins the battle of wills to secure the lady’s attention and the story take a serious turn.

‘A Chess Story’ contains a story within a story and ultimately gives a chilling tale of an arrest that reflects the Jewish predicament under the Nazi regime, but also demonstrates a clever way of not caving under pressure and finding sanctuary in mental distraction.

‘Fear’ is another battle of wills, this time between a married woman and a blackmailer tightening the metaphorical noose inch by excruciating inch.

In ‘Confusion’ a privy councillor reviews his life and his past obsession with his professor and the professor’s secret that once known irrevocably changes both of them. Again there is a slow burn of discomfort as we are drip fed the story.

‘Journey into the Past’ looks back on a love story that ended in the First World War. The two lovers meet again, but both are married and changed though the events of life. Zweig again manages to evoke strong emotions.

Zweig’s writing has a feel of a crossover from very old fashioned type of writing that lingers on exposition to the crisp modern writing of today favouring an encapsulation of a whole scenario in as few as words as possible. Zweig does use words well and his writing is something to linger over and savour. Each novella takes a reader through the type of emotional turmoil which leaves a sense of feeling quite wrung out at the end of each one, particularly as you are never quite sure how the stories are going to turn out until the last minute.

Collected stories

On the strength of the novellas I bought The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig, again published by Pushkin Press. In this shorter form of narrative Zweig’s true genius with words is more obvious because the craft of each story can be more easily absorbed in one go and you find yourself quickly into the heart of them. I am only partway through the volume, which is just over 700 words. Once finished, I suspect it will become a reference book when I come to consider the choice, rhythm and placement of words I use in my own short stories.

 The Collected Novellas of Stefan Zweig was courtesy of Pushkin Press. The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig is a bought copy.

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4 Comments
  1. Sounds good.
    Zweig first came to my attention due to The Grand Hotel Budapest which I recommend if you haven’t sene it.

    • I haven’t seen the film yet and is on my list of to dos. It does look very funny. Although my experience with Zweig is that his writing tends to be quite serious.

      • Interesting. The film is comedic/farcical.

      • Just had a look at the Wes Anderson interview and it seems the film was influenced by some of Zweig’s characters.
        There was a book of the week on BBC Radio ‘Summer Before the Dark’ not long ago. It was a fictionalised account of Zweig in Ostend. There does seem to be quite a bit of interest in him at the moment.

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