Romantic Obsession + Tragedy = Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig is not your typical Viennese novelist, journalist, playwright and biographer. He and his wife committed a double suicide in 1942. Suicide is a touchy subject in the Land of the Free. We can’t withstand the guilt suicide suggests in the hard-working and God Fearing U.S. of A.

Frankly, there is no glamour in it here.

I am not suggesting it by any means, but it is interesting to note that in other countries such as Japan, China and India, suicide is viewed as a more virtuous, perhaps even an honorable act. And maybe that’s why there is romance and dignity in their double suicide. Maybe that is why Amok and Other Stories is so beautifully tragic. He appeals to the romantic in all of us. Yes, these four stories are tragic, but to some that is how life is. The protagonists in these stories love without regret or even encouragement; they love with a blind devotion that solely gives them purpose and when that object is taken away or goes away, there is no purpose. Zweig captures the anxiety and desperation of their emotions with such a light touch, it only makes us see them as sad and beautiful. When I read this next passage, I was struck by how accurate and light Zweig painted a waiter’s obsession with a Baroness who was visiting the hotel he where he worked:

It was that faithful, dog-like devotion without desire that those in mid-life seldom feel, and is known only to the very young and the very old. A love devoid of any deliberation, not thinking but only dreaming.

Three out of the four stories in this collection put us in the hearts of those suffering from unrequited love. Zweig’s style is so elegant and descriptive, the purity of this love scares and engages us. The last story draws us in to man who cannot find his way home, due to the war. This is the story I found most tragic because of its autobiographical slant. Zweig and his wife committed suicide because the home that they knew, was one they could never get to again. These stories are so worthwhile and if there is any credence to the adage ‘write what you know’ then Zweig was a man who wrote about loss and love with equal knowledge.

Amok and Other Stories
Pushkin Press
By Stefan Zweig
Translated by Anthea Bell
143 pages
$12.00

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