*The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World*

That is the new and truly excellent book by George Prochnik, think of it as a selective biography focused on themes of exile, perversion, Brazil, and suicide.  Excerpt:

Martin Gumpert shared Zweig’s sense of depletion amid New York’s incessant activity, likening the exhaustion that befell almost every newcomer to a “magic spell.”  When Bruno Walter first arrived in New York, the heat of his hotel room drove him out onto the street though it was still before dawn.  On his initial promenade down Manhattan’s avenues, he imagined “wit a shudder of horror” that he was “walking at the bottom of immensely deep rocky canyons.”  As the sun rose, his eyes caught sight of an enormous billboard on top of a building displaying the words “U.S. Tires.”  In a daze he thought to himself, “Yes, it does — true enough — but why is this fact being advertised to me from the rooftops?”


Even New York rain, Camus observed after his own first encounter with the city in the mid-1940s, was “a rain of exile.  Abundant, viscous, and dense; it pours down tirelessly between the high cubes of cement into avenues plunged suddenly into the darkness of a well…I am out of my depth when I think of New York,” he acknowledged.  Camus wrote of wrestling with “the excessive luxury and bad taste” of New York, but also with “the subway that reminds you of Sing Sing prison” and “ads filled with clouds of smiles proclaiming from every wall that life is not tragic.”

This is one of my favorite books of the year so far.  (You will find here an interesting review.)  And Zweig’s own The World of Yesterday is one of my favorite books period.


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