Fans of old movies may be familiar with Letter from an Unknown Woman, starring Joan Fontaine, which was adapted from Stefan Zweig's 1922 novella telling the story of a playboy and his amours from the point of view of one of the discarded women. Abortive relationships between men and women dominate this splendid collection, where a touch or a fleeting memory illuminates the cruelty or the ignorance of an individual.
In "Fantastic Night", an Austrian lieutenant remembers the night that changed him from a self-indulgent young man into a caring individual – and during which he stole money, consorted with a prostitute and was almost robbed. As in many of these stories, the more sordid aspects – not necessarily of life, but of character – are revealed.
In "The Fowler Snared", a man's manipulations of a young girl expose his moral vacuity; in "Buchmendel", a whole society's mistreatment of a Jewish book-pedlar shocks one of his former customers, who had forgotten the old man and, in doing so, behaved just as badly.
Human frailties and human cruelties are Zweig's eternal themes.