Tag Archives: Stefan Zweig

Triumph and Disaster

triumph

Triumph and Disaster – Five Historical Miniatures
By Stefan Zweig
Pushkin Press – £9.99

Enthusiasm, unlike a pickle/Does not keep well, but may prove fickle.

                                                                                                                          Goethe

Hmm, now there’s food for thought; or should I say, enthusiasm?

Although, whichever way one decides to look at it, the all round philosophical comprehension of this fine book ought to serve as some sort of sign – rather like so much of Stefan Zweig’s work.

Indeed, to quote Clive James: ”Zweig’s accumulated historical and cultural studies remain a body of achievement almost too impressive to take in.”

What accounts for Triumph and Disaster – Five Historical Miniatures being such a formidable read, is the acute degree to which Zweig grapples, and then ultimately comes to terms with the five very differing subject matters at hand – the titles of which are: ‘The Field of Waterloo,’ ‘The Race to Reach the South Pole,’ ‘The Conquest of Byzantium,’ The Sealed Train’ and ‘Wilson’s Failure.’ All of which are written so deftly and so remarkably well, James’s words linger with all the literary aroma of a fine wine.

For instance, writing of Captain Scott in the second short story, Zeig states: ”Scott writes English as Tacitus writes Latin, as if carving it in unhewn stone. You sense that he is a man who does not dream, fanatically objective, in fact a true blue Englishman in whom even genius takes the crystalline form of a pronounced sense of duty. Men like Scott have featured hundreds of times in British history, conquering India and nameless islands in the East Indian archipelago, colonizing Africa and fighting battles against the whole world, always with the same iron energy, the same collective consciousness and the same cold, reserved expression.”

Herein is a mere tip of Zweig’s investigative clarity, which, if (objective) truth be known, still roundly resonates today.

The following words being the perfect and most pristine example: ”A single Yes, a single No, a Too Soon or a Too Late makes that hour irrevocable for hundreds of generations while deciding the life of a single man or woman, of a nation, even the destiny of all humanity.”

David Marx

Advertisements

Messages From A Lost World

617wpcdwoxl-_sx324_bo1204203200_

Messages From A Lost World –
Europe On The Brink
By Stefan Zweig
Pushkin Press – £16.99

Darkness must fall before we are aware of the majesty of the stars above our heads. It was necessary for this dark hour to fall, perhaps the darkest hour in history, to make us realise that freedom is as vital to our soul as breathing to our body.

                                                                                                                        Stefan Zweig

With regards Germany having fallen unto the abyss of such abhorrent absolutism during the nineteen-thirties; are the above words not as equally descriptive and heartbreaking as events currently taking place in both the United Kingdom and the United States?

With such division as directly manifested by Brexit and the vile, vitriolic likes of Donald Trump, one cannot help but ask if humanity, let alone society at large, has learnt anything (from history).

Wasn’t Hitler’s madness enough?

The New Republic succinctly refers to Stefan Zweig as ”one of liberalism’s greatest defenders,” which, it has to be said, this astonishingly brave and in parts, beautiful book, more than quintessentially attests to.

In ‘The Sleepless World’ alone, the Austrian born, Jewish writer bequeaths the reader with such majesty as: ”A thousand thoughts restlessly on the move, from the silent towns to the military camp-fires, from the lone sentry on his watch and back again, from the nearest to the most distant, those invisible gliding threads of love and tribulation, a weft of feelings, a limitless network now covering the world, for all the days and all the nights.”

To think that an array of monsters amid the Third Reich may well have read these words – but still acted the deplorable way they did (by among other atrocities, initiating the Final Solution), really is hard, if not impossible to comprehend.

There gain, certain books were only written so’s to be burnt – were they not?

Were the likes of Gove, May, Farage, Johnson and that utterly messianic, deplorable cunt, Trump, to even have the capacity to evoke, let alone believe in and/or act upon ”those invisible gliding threads of love and tribulation […] a limitless network now covering the world, for all the days and all the nights;” said world would (today) be a far better, safer place.

As Will Stone has written in this edition’s Introduction: ”Nationalism is the sworn enemy of civilisation, whether past, present or future, its malodorous presence thwarting the development of intelligence, its tenets those of division, regression, hatred, violence and persecution. In nationalism, with the Nazis as its most lethal form […]. Zweig’s Europe is an almost mystical conviction that whatever remains of the European spirit, the sum of artistic achievement that has accrued for centuries, can only survive the modern plague of nationalism, materialism and philistinism, can only safeguard its crown jewels of philosophical thought, art and literature through a practicable spiritual integration, a higher guild of amiable coalition.”

Try telling that to the current Foreign Secretary; or indeed, any of the words contained herein (and no, I’m not coming from a coveted pedestal of implausible idealism).

If you only read ONE book this year, make it Stefan Zweig’s Messages From A Lost World.

It really is that stunning, pertinent and invaluable.

David Marx

Summer Before The Dark

SummerBeforeDark_HB-667x1024

Summer Before The Dark
Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, Ostend 1936
By Voker Weidermann
Pushkin Press – £12.99

”Little lies. It was war. Truth was dead.”

There’s something extraordinarily expressive and expansive about the way friendship has been conveyed throughout this altogether elgaic book. Almost all of its 168 pages – with the 169th depicting a black and white photograph of the two prime protagonists – appear to be drenched in the sort fraught sincerity one doesn’t often hear about – let alone come across, today.

Anchored in the Belgian, seaside town of Ostend during the summer of 1936, Summer Before The Dark bequeaths the reader with coterie of artists, intellectuals, drunks and madmen, all of whom are essentially on the run from the vile powers that be.

At the vanguard of said posse of silent lunacy, are the two literary sensations, Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, one of whom is (even) more off the rails than the other. But what makes the book so utterly rewarding, is its slightly warped and opaque description of an era underlined by desperation: ”Roth felt on the verge of death. His room, he said, looked like a coffin […] at some point there’ll be a return journey. But when? The more urgent this question becomes, the less often it is posed. With every day of this vacation that goes by, any return becomes less plausible. They all know it. But it’s never discussed. Optimism is a duty. There’s a length of rope in the suitcase, but nobody talks about it.”

Such descriptive nonchalance is what perhaps accounts for The Financial Times having written: A marvellous book… literary biography at it s best. Faithful to facts, it reads like a novel […] extreme personalities, tense political backdrop and tragic central relationships, it would make a terrific film – Death in Venice with more sex, more booze, more action and considerably more conversation.”

Sounds more akin to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but instead of Richard and Liz going at it, we have two fesity, ageing writers – flung together by way of jealousy and ambition, The Nazis and ultimately, love.

David Marx