The World of Yesterday

I bought The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig on the recommendation of an erudite friend. “One of the greatest memoirs of the twentieth century” says David Hare. John Banville adds ” a marvellous recapturing of a Europe that Hitler and his thugs destroyed”.

It looks extremely promising, opening in Vienna in the last decade of the 19th century and moving to Berlin, Paris, London. He evokes the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the security and protection it offered its citizens. He describes his unsatisfactory school days and the awakening of his interest in literature and poetry. He meets many of the great figures of his age, including going to a poetry reading in London by WB Yeats. So why did I abandon it half way through?

He writes discursively and his translator (Anthea Bell) conveys his pedantic and prolix style only too well. It’s just too long-winded for me and added to that I am not familiar with many of the figures he writes about, for example Rilke and Verhaeren. I know I should persevere but it’s too much like hard work and there is so much more that I want to read. I will earn my friend’s displeasure for my shallowness.

Anyway, as one door closes another opens and I have started Empires of the Dead by David Crane. It deserves a post of its own – a Last Post? – when I have read it.

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