A short post today for a short story. Two short stories. I'm not sure I have much to say about either, mostly due to a lack of energy (a weekend spent doing yard work since daylight hours are shorter and it's impossible to do during the work week now--and as it is going to change from fall to winter overnight this coming week). One I liked very much though it was quite melancholic and the other one was good but maybe just not my own personal cup of tea.
First, the next story in The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig. "In the Snow" sounds like it might be a cheerful holiday sort of story, however it is anything but. It does take place on a holiday--the Jewish holiday of Chanukah.
"A small Medieval German town close to the Polish boarder, with the sturdy solidity of fourteenth-century building: the colorful, lively picture that it usually presents has faded to a single impression of dazzling, shimmering white. Snow is piled high on the broad walls and weighs down on the tops of the towers, around which night has already cast veils of opaque grey mist."
Darkness is falling, the streets are emptying out and a hush falls over the town. Inside this house, the largest of the neighborhood which serves not just as a home but as the local synagogue, too, is filled with guests and merrymakers bustling about full of happiness and cheer. Outside a horseman approaches, dismounts and knocks on the door and immediately all becomes quiet inside. Knocks on doors don't always announce visitors of good intentions. A young woman is sent to look out the window and sees it isn't just anyone but her fiancé.
The man had been abroad and when he came upon a vicious crowd--a group of flagellants wreaking havoc upon the community of Jews in his home town (a small town where everyon here has family). He then followed the looters until nothing and nobody was left. The house party is filled with fear and anguish and worse--resignation. "It is the will of God". Perhaps a common refrain?
The strength of their persecutors is too much and they decide to flee, here and now, despite the cold and snow and with nothing prepared.
"One man did suggest, timidly, that they might appeal to the other citizens of the town for protection, but a scornful smile was all the answer he got. Again and again, their fate has always brought the oppressed back to the necessity of relying on themselves and on their God, No third party could be trusted."
And so they set off. But the cold and the snow conspires against them even if they are alone and fleeing. But they are forsaken. With no one to help them or come to their aid. I'll let you imagine the rest.
An eloquently told, if disheartening, tale. Of course Stefan Zweig was Austrian and Jewish. He was a Humanist though I don't think he ever gave up his Jewish faith entirely. He left Austria just before the outbreak of WWII settling eventually in Brazil. So despairing of what was happening in Europe he ended up taking his life.
"In the Snow" is unlike any of the other stories I have read by Zweig so far. Though it takes place in Medieval times, it's a bit of history that keeps recurring for the Jews. I'm not sure when the story was written and published, so it is perhaps prescient in thinking of where history was then leading. I'm sure it is filled with symbolism as well. Most heartbreaking is the end and the idea that a new day dawns and the world continues sunny and joyful with new buds growing on the trees, not to be witnessed by this group of people. A common refrain in Jewish history.
So, good but sad.
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This weekend's New Yorker story, (October 27 issue) "Alan Bean Plus Four" is by actor Tom Hanks. Did you know he is a writer, too? I didn't. Surely the inspiration must have been his own work and the movie he made about the Apollo 13 mission. The story is a take on flights into space, and in this case on a rocket built and launched from someone's yard. Not sure how tongue in cheek it is meant to be, though it has its moments, but it definitely bends reality. I'm not sure why it didn't click with me more. He is a marvelous actor and his writing's not bad but the story just didn't do anything for me. I guess it was just not what I was in the mood to read. You can read the story, too, here. And check out the Q&A with Hanks here. I read the Hanks story before I read the Zweig by the way (so it didn't suffer in the wake of a story so very serious).
Next weekened's Zweig story, "The Miracles of Life" is quite a long story--almost novella-length, so I might start reading now. And it is always an adventure what the New Yorker sends my way!