Buried Treasure: Lavinia Greenlaw on Stefan Zweig's 'The Invisible Collection' and 'Buchmendel'

Click to follow

Stefan Zweig was born into 19th-century Vienna, lived through the disintegration of Europe, took British citizenship and committed suicide in 1942 in Brazil. Jewish, privileged and gifted, he was at once at the centre of his culture and abruptly displaced.

This pair of long stories, or short novellas, has been finely published by the Pushkin Press (£7.50). They stand emphatically together, and speak to each other about how art is both timeless and useless in a world like that of Europe between the wars.

The Invisible Collector concerns a cynical dealer looking up an old client in search of a bargain, only to find the man blind, and protected by his wife and daughter from the fact that inflation has driven them to sell off his priceless collection of prints and replace them with blank sheets.

Buchmendel concerns an equally "invisible catalogue" - an archive of everything ever published held in the memory of a second-hand bookdealer who runs his business from the same café for more than 20 years, only to be sent to a camp for not having done the right paperwork.

Zweig had an interest in psychoanalysis and both tales are prompted by chance - a meeting on a train, a retreat into the nearest café. It is as if the same story hovers beneath every surface.

Lavinia Greenlaw's 'Mary George of Allnorthover' (Flamingo) has just won the Prix du Premier Roman in France

Comments