The Post-Office Girl

The Post-Office Girl

4.0 3
by Stefan Zweig, Joel Rotenberg

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Wes Anderson on Stefan Zweig:  "I had never heard of Zweig...when I just more or less by chance bought a copy of Beware of Pity. I loved this first book.  I also read the The Post-Office GirlThe Grand Budapest Hotel has elements that were sort of stolen from both these books. Two characters in…  See more details below


Wes Anderson on Stefan Zweig:  "I had never heard of Zweig...when I just more or less by chance bought a copy of Beware of Pity. I loved this first book.  I also read the The Post-Office GirlThe Grand Budapest Hotel has elements that were sort of stolen from both these books. Two characters in our story are vaguely meant to represent Zweig himself — our “Author” character, played by Tom Wilkinson, and the theoretically fictionalised version of himself, played by Jude Law. But, in fact, M. Gustave, the main character who is played by Ralph Fiennes, is modelled significantly on Zweig as well."

2009 PEN Translation Prize Finalist

The logic of capitalism, boom and bust, is unremitting and unforgiving. But what happens to human feeling in a completely commodified world? In The Post-Office Girl, Stefan Zweig, a deep analyst of the human passions, lays bare the private life of capitalism.Christine toils in a provincial post office in post–World War I Austria, a country gripped by unemployment. Out of the blue, a telegram arrives from Christine’s rich American aunt inviting her to a resort in the Swiss Alps. Christine is immediately swept up into a world of inconceivable wealth and unleashed desire. She feels herself utterly transformed: nothing is impossible. But then, abruptly, her aunt cuts her loose. Christine returns to the post office, where yes, nothing will ever be the same.

Christine meets Ferdinand, a bitter war veteran and disappointed architect, who works construction jobs when he can get them. They are drawn to each other, even as they are crushed by a sense of deprivation, of anger and shame. Work, politics, love, sex: everything is impossible for them. Life is meaningless, unless, through one desperate and decisive act, they can secretly remake their world from within.

Cinderella meets Bonnie and Clyde in Zweig’s haunting and hard-as-nails novel, completed during the 1930s, as he was driven by the Nazis into exile, but left unpublished at the time of his death. The Post-Office Girl, available here for the first time in English, transforms our image of a modern master’s achievement.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Is it possible to have a realist fairy story? If so, this is it. The characters are so well realised and observed, and there are passages of such imaginative immersion, that we owe its publisher our gratitude for bringing it into English for the first time. What a treat this book is”. --The Spectator (UK)

“An exhilarating ski run of poverty, joy and misery... it is the girl's ecstatic naivety and Zweig's sparkling prose that makes the old stories so sweetly fresh and, when the whole dream collapses, so devastatingly sad”. --The Sunday Times (UK)

"In The Post-Office Girl Stefan Zweig explores the details of everyday life in language that pierces both brain and heart...The story is poignant, painful, and must be one of fiction’s darkest indictments of how poverty destroys hope, enjoyment, beauty, brightness and laughter, and how money, no matter how falsely, provides ease and delight." --The Spectator (UK)

"This is a fascinating depiction of the effects of history on individual lives." --The Financial Times

"The Post Office Girl is a fine novel and an excellent place to start if you are new to this great Austrian novelist. It is a powerful social history, describing in moving detail the social impact of the First World War, and the extreme poverty in which so many people were forced to live. It shows up the challenge to European civilisation of the early Thirties and the failure of humanism, in which Zweig believed until the end of his life. And it is remarkable for the bleak interior worlds it depicts of anxiety, self-doubt, depression and disintegration. Zweig succeeded in taking the most complex concepts of psychoanalysis and bringing them vividly to life." --The Telegraph

"Stefan Zweig was a late and magnificent bloom from the hothouse of fin de siecle Vienna...The posthumous publication of a Zweig novel affords an opportunity to revisit this gifted writer...The Post-Office Girl is captivating." --The Wall Street Journal

"... nowhere else in his fiction does Zweig confront the legacy of the Great War with as deep a social reach or as detailed a human sympathy as he does in The Post-Office Girl... we are lucky to have the book, not only for its devastating picture of postwar Austrian life but also because it represents so radical a departure from Zweig's other fiction as to signal the existence of a hitherto unsuspected literary personality..." —William Deresiewicz, The Nation

"[In this] ... beautiful translation by Joel Rotenberg.... Stefan Zweig finds a universal story of psychological struggle and spiritual testing in a bitter but humane indictment of class inequality. He finds a love story, of a sort, in a quest story, and a quest story in a love story. He finds anger in compassion, and compassion in anger; beauty in suffering, and suffering in beauty." --The New York Observer

"[Zweig is a] writer who understands perfectly the life he is describing, and who has great analytic gifts . . . " –Stephen Spender, The New York Review of Books

"Always [Zweig] remains essentially the same, revealing in all . . . mediums his subtlety of style, his profound psychological knowledge and his inherent humaneness." –Barthold Fles, The New Republic

"His writing reveals his sympathy for fellow human beings." –Ruth Franklin, London Review of Books

“The experience of reading Zweig is not so much of entering the world of the story as of plunging inward and dreaming the story.” –Rachel Cohen, Bookforum

“A brilliant writer.” –Louis Kronenberger, The New York Times

“Admired by readers as diverse as Freud, Einstein, Toscanini, Thomas Mann and Herman Goering.” –Edwin McDowell, The New York Times

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New York Review Books
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New York Review Books Classics Series
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The Post-Office Girl 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
sfh_from_illinois More than 1 year ago
Starts off very nicely, with description of post WWI Austria, capturing the bureaucratic culture of the former Prussian empire in its rather stale and anal hyper-organization. But the novel loses its credibility with the faster-than-overnight transformation of the female protagonist (whose name I have already forgotten) from bland poor girl to naive, entitled rich girl. Much of the problem is the author's incessant repetition of the same point, over and over, again, to make sure we don't miss it, namely: how the luxury of the aunt's lifestyle reshapes everything the poor girl thinks and feels. Then, of course, comes the major letdown she confronts when she is betrayed by her new-found friends. The second half of the book is even more heavy-handed. Our 'heroine' rather improbably meets and befriends an embittered, nihilistic former German soldier who barely survived the Russian prison camps; he becomes her companion and eventually her lover. At this point the author's unrelentless expostulation of the unfairness of...of everything in life, really...of fate, of capitalism, of government corruption and the point where the reader just wants to tear out the pages. Alas, one has to finish the book to be able to pontificate at Book Club. :) One might appreciate the book as a snapshot of a miserable period in western Europe. And, as the protagonists plot their revenge of sorts on the establishment, though not with a particularly elevated sense of hope or aspiration, the reader might enjoy assessing the detailed planning of their escape. We never learn how it all works out, which is just as well, of course, because whether they find happiness or not is not really the point of the book. What is the point of the book? At first I thought it was a critique of capitalism and a cry for socialist rule, sort of an attempt at artful propaganda. But in the end it just seems to be another illustration of the maxim 'life sucks, and then you die.'
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago