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 Girl. The 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."
The post-office girl is Christine, who looks after her ailing mother and toils in a provincial Austrian post office in the years just after the Great War. One afternoon, as she is dozing among the official forms and stamps, a telegraph arrives addressed to her. It is from her rich aunt, who lives in America and writes requesting that Christine join her and her husband in a Swiss Alpine resort. After a dizzying train ride, Christine finds herself at the top of the world, enjoying a life of privilege that she had never imagined.
But Christine’s aunt drops her as abruptly as she picked her up, and soon the young woman is back at the provincial post office, consumed with disappointment and bitterness. Then she meets Ferdinand, a wounded but eloquent war veteran who is able to give voice to the disaffection of his generation. Christine’s and Ferdinand’s lives spiral downward, before Ferdinand comes up with a plan which will be either their salvation or their doom.
Never before published in English, this extraordinary book is an unexpected and haunting foray into noir fiction by one of the masters of the psychological novel.
About the Author
Joel Rotenberg has produced NYRB original translations for Stefan Zweig’s Chess Story and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s The Lord Chandos Letter.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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 incompetence...to 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.'