Pushkin Press £9.99
Selected Stories, By Stefan Zweig
Sunday 17 January 2010
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.
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