Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig


He lived one of those lives that seem otiose because they are not linked to any community of interest, because all the riches stored in them by a thousand separate valuable experiences will pass when their last breath is drawn, without anyone to inherit them. -- A Summer Novella

Short story collections are tough for me to review, especially enormous volumes like this one -- normally I have to spread out the reading over several weeks or even months, and it's hard to remember all the stories to comment on them as a whole. But I loved The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig so much that I sped through it in just over a week. They're so wonderfully written I simply could not stop reading this 700 page volume.

There are twenty-two stories in this volume, but the hardcover edition more than two inches thick and weighs in at two pounds! It's an unwieldy chunkster, to say the least, but luckily one of the nearby libraries had an ebook copy, so I could read it on my laptop and even on my phone. I made a goal of reading one short story every day, but I sped through them and sometimes read three or even four. Some of them are fairly short, and some are closer to novellas, like Amok and Twenty Four Hours in the Life of a Woman.

Stories are arranged chronologically by publication date. As I expected, most of them are set in Vienna and eastern Europe, but others are set in Renaissance Antwerp, Malaysia and Scotland. Like the stories of W. Somerset Maugham, several of them are framed as a story being retold to an anonymous narrator. I'm not going to going to go through all 22 stories, but here are some quick thoughts on a few of my favorites. 

Nice cover on this German edition.
Could it be Lake Como or Lake Geneva?

The Star Above the Forest
: A waiter falls in love with an unobtainable countess. One of the shortest stories, but heartbreaking, beautiful prose.

A Summer Novella: He lived one of those lives that seem otiose because they are not linked to any community of interest, because all the riches stored in them by a thousand separate valuable experiences will pass when their last breath is drawn, without anyone to inherit them.

Wondrak: A heartbreaking story about a disfigured recluse living in the forest, and her desperate attempt to save her son from being conscripted to fight in WWI. Sadly, this story is unfinished so we'll never know how it ends. I wish this story were a full length-novel.

Conscription: Another story about a man struggling with the decision whether to obey his orders to fight in the war. In this case he's an artist living in Switzerland. 

Amok: Closer in length to a novella, it's riveting story of a man's confession to a stranger on a sea voyage. It reminded me very much of the stories of W. Somerset Maugham, possibly because of the colonial setting and the shocking ending (and, sadly, the anti-Asian racism, which disappointed me).

Letter From an Unknown Woman: Another novella, about a writer who receives an anonymous letter from a woman obsessed with him. 

The Invisible Collection: Melancholy story of an antique dealer visiting a longtime collector during the period of massive inflation in Germany.

Did He Do It?: A cautionary tale of overindulgent dog owners, with a horrifying ending. 

The Debt Paid Late: The most uplifting story in the collection, about a woman's chance encounter with a faded actor. 
Stefan Zweig

I'm both glad I finally got around to reading this, and annoyed with myself for waiting so long! I definitely want to read more Zweig. I've also read The Post-Office Girl and Chess Story, both of which I loved, and I still have Beware of Pity unread on my TBR shelves -- might save it for next year's European Reading Challenge! I'm also tempted to buy his Collected Novellas and some of his other works published by Pushkin Press. I had actually resolved not to buy any new books this year but I do have a birthday coming up in a few months!

I'm counting this as my Austrian read for the European Reading Challenge; also counts towards the Chunkster Challenge.

4 comments:

  1. I've loved everything I've read by Zweig & I've been curious about this. It seems like I need to find a copy!

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    1. I loved everything so far and now I want to learn all about him. There's a German documentary called Farewell to Europe about him and it's at my library!

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  2. Nice review. I've just taken Letter from an Unknown Woman out of the library for this challenge too. Looking forward to starting it now.

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  3. I'm not a huge fan of short stories, but the fact that you read this tome in a week and were reading three or four stories a day is quite the recommendation! I've not read any Zweig yet and really need to remedy that, though I think I will start with one of his novels.

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