I really wasn't looking for a new book to buy, but when I saw this gorgeous new collection of stories by Stefan Zweig I had to have it. It helped that I can say I have bought and will read it in honor of German Literature Month, but I think I would have ordered it anyway eventually. I don't think this contains all of Stefan Zweig's short stories, but there are nearly two dozen here, all translated by the very talented Anthea Bell (I have read her translations before and she is extremely good at what she does--you almost can't guess the work has been translated from German). And it is a beautifully and simply designed book which is published by the Pushkin Press, so I knew it would be nice even as I was ordering it sight unseen. This is where my November short story reading will take me, I've decided. If the stories are as good as I expect them to be, my reading will likely continue beyond November.
I really like Stefan Zweig. I think he is a wonderful and perceptive writer, quite often melancholic, but someone whose entire oeuvre I wouldn't mind working my way through. I have already read: The Post Office Girl, Beware of Pity (perhaps my favorite so far of his books that I have read), and Journey into the Past. He tends to write shorter fiction rather than longer novels, but with some authors, and Zweig is one of them, they can write a book rich in meaning and and beautifully crafted in just a few pages.
I'm starting with the first story and going to just make my way through to the end. One of the blurbs on the little jacket notes that Zweig is a master at capturing the "best and worst of human nature", and I suppose it is the worst that we begin with in "Forgotten Dreams". It is a simple story but eloquently told. A woman is visited by a former admirer and friend who has traveled all the way from his new home in America when he hears she is betrothed to a man of shallow and contemptible morals.
Surely she must see something good in him that no one else does. There must be some good excuse for her actions. In just a few pages she is shown to have a matching set of morals--so very disappointing. The financier she has married can offer her the life of luxury and beauty she has always wanted and strove for. The tragedy, however, of the story--of the woman's life (and you don't feel particularly sympathetic towards her so far) is the missed opportunity she had as a young woman to marry and be happy with this other lover.
Aside from the quiet introspective quality to the writing and telling of the story, and the forming of the character's personalities, is the gorgeous prose and beautiful descriptions of place and person.
"The villa lay close to the sea."
"The quiet avenues, lined with pine trees, breathed out the rich strength of salty sea air, and a slight breeze constantly played around the orange trees, now and then removing a colourful bloom from flowering shrubs as if with careful fingers. The sunlit distance, where attractive houses built on hillsides gleamed like white pearls, a lighthouse miles away rose steeply and straight as a candle--the whole scene shone, its contours sharp and clearly outlined, and was set in the deep azure of the sky like bright mosaic. The waves of the sea, marked by only the few white specks that were the distant sails of isolated ships, lapped against the tiered terrace on which the villa stood; the ground then rose on and on to the green of a broad, shady garden and merged with the rewst of the park, a scene drowsy and still, as if under some fairy-tale enchantment."
Fairy-tale enchantment indeed. But with an unhappy princess. One who thinks her life is rich and full and that she has everything she ever wanted but perhaps an empty heart. Can't you see the scene Zweig sets? It's vividly told. I think I am in for a treat with this collection. Next week's story is "In the Snow".
* * * * *
I have to be honest. I was all set to not like this weekend's New Yorker (Oct. 20th--someday I really will catch up properly) short story--"Ordinary Sins" by Kirstin Valdez Quade. But the more I read, the more I liked it, the more interesting it became for me. The story is about a young woman who has made all sorts of wrong choices in her life and has ended up pregnant with twins and not boyriend or husband or even anyone who especially cares about her waiting on the sidelines. To complicate matters she works in the office of a Catholic Church, where strangely the priest in charge makes her quite welcome in the parish. Nothing is simple however--for the pregnant woman or the priest. It's not what you're thinking, and that is what I liked about the story--the unexpectedness of it all which verges so much on real life. Real life being messy and complicated. This is one story of a forthcoming collection called Night at the Fiestas, which is due out in 2015. You can read the Q&A with the author here.