Monday, November 28, 2011
Stefan Zweig (Nov. 28, 1881)
Stefan Zweig's autobiography The World of Yesterday depicts the vanished world of Vienna 100 years ago. Jews were a major factor in the intellectual life in that famous era, and he describes it with painful awareness that the Nazis had destroyed everything he cherished. He also documents his experiences as a pacifist during World War I, and other elements of his life as a highly successful and rewarded author. Soon after writing the book, in exile, deprived of his success and of the Europe he had valued, he and his wife committed suicide in despair.
I've read some of his stories, the autobiography, and his novel “Beware of Pity.” The latter explored an interesting side of what it meant to be Jewish at the time, through depiction of a Jew who has tried to repudiate his background, but suffers for his pretensions. The focus of the book is on a rather unimaginative officer who can't resist an overdeveloped sense of honor. Zweig's works can at times seem dated, but at times also offer really interesting insights into the past. Recently, a number of his books have been republished and readership, which declined for many years, has increased.