Jump to content
DonRocks

Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), Austrian Novelist, Playwright, Journalist, Biographer, and One of the Greatest Writers in History

Recommended Posts

On 10/11/2014 at 3:11 PM, DIShGo said:

I just finished reading The Royal Game and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig. Wow. This book is phenomenal. "The Royal Game" is without question the best short story I have ever read. The other stories in this book are noteworthy, too, especially "Letter from an Unknown Woman." Zweig studied philosophy and this is apparent in his work. He has an uncanny way of presenting the inner workings of the minds of his characters. You don't just read about what they are experiencing, you feel 

Stefan Zweig would be on my short-short list of "Greatest Writers Ever." The two novellas I have read by him, "The Royal Game" (1941, "Schachnovelle" in German) and "Amok" (1922, Der Amokläufe in German), are as good as any short stories I've ever read, and if someone held a gun to my head, and forced me to pick the single greatest short story I've ever read, it would be "The Royal Game" (and, quite frankly, I don't have any idea what the runner-up would be). It is, in my eyes, an almost-perfect novella, especially its structure in A-B-AB form - it's like reading a Beethoven Sonata.

To put the admittedly hyperbolic statements above in perspective, Fyodor Dostoyevsky would also be on that list, which you could count with the fingers of one hand. Structure and architecture are two extremely important things to me, and Zweig's structure cannot be improved upon - it's like reading a Bach Fugue.

There's one potentially ruinous thing about "The Royal Game," and that is the translation. Zweig was personal friends with Sigmund Freud, and human psychology is an integral part of his writing - for this reason alone, it is imperative to find a well-translated version of his works. The book that DIShGo read (which I own, "The Royal Game & Other Stories") is translated in the fashion of "stuffy British English," and I cannot even find the name of the translator, though I've only spent about fifteen minutes looking online. 

The first time I read "The Royal Game" was nearly twenty years ago, and it was the subject being discussed in a book that was called something like, "What Is Art?" I lent it to a friend, and never got it back. :angry:, so I remember neither the exact name of the book, nor the name of the translator, but *that* version was what reeled me in like a fish; this four-story anthology is a crime against humanity for what it did to Zweig's masterpiece. Oh, the story is still there, and you'll see how wonderful it is, but that extra 10% of magic is gone due to the formality of the language used - Zweig desperately needs to be translated in an almost conversational style since his works deal with such intense human emotion; the compendium available on Amazon makes you feel like you're reading a news article instead of reading Zweig's own words. I feel helpless, not being able to recommend a good translation to you, because it is absolutely imperative.

Anyway, I leafed through this translation (the compendium on Amazon), and was aghast at the writing style. Phrases and words that you'll simply never hear spoken in your entire life are used with regularity, and it actually made me *sad* that people are reading this, thinking they're reading Zweig. 

Regardless, I decided to bite my lip, and read the second story in the compendium, "Amok," and even with this stiff language, it is abundantly clear that I was reading a masterpiece - a work that could have only been written by an author so profound that even a stuffy translator couldn't ruin it. "Amok" was an unbelievably great novella, the kind of story that you *hate* putting down because you have to be somewhere - it's only forty pages long, so can be easily read - savored - in a couple hours of focused attention. I will not ruin the story for you, at least not in this post, but perhaps if anyone wishes to discuss it, I'll include a prominent *** SPOILERS *** section so as not to ruin it for the uninitiated - but not yet.

"Amok' was a story so engaging that I might come out and say it's the second-greatest novella I've ever read; yet, according to DIShGo, it may not even be the second-best novella in this one compendium!

There is very little chance at this point of me finding out the name of the original book I had, much less the translator, but I can say with confidence to avoid this edition on Amazon. "The Royal Game" is clearly divided into three sections, and was labeled as such; *this* compendium doesn't even have the decency to label the "sections" 1, 2, and 3 - it just crams everything together. Never have I read a story that is so clearly demarcated - a child could have put in the section numbers without even knowing anything about the novella.

"The Royal Game" was published just before Zweig committed suicide. I wonder if he knew, deep down inside, that he had produced a work of such profundity that it could never again be matched. Almost surely not - Zweig had some personal problems, but they came out in full Technicolor in his writing - writing that can only be described with one word in the English language: genius.

Never have I raved about an author like this, and once you read Zweig's works, you'll understand why. You'll *hate* it when they end. I must add that I have read precisely two novellas by Zweig, hardly making me an expert, so this essay must be tempered with the appropriate grain of salt. That said, I'm so confident in this man's genius, that I could commit to reading *only him* for the rest of my life, and if the body of work was large enough, it would be a life well-spent.

--- This is important, so keep reading!

PS - There is hope! My friend answered my desperate text message with a response - the book is called "Understanding the Arts," (*) and it was written by John Hospers. I don't understand how book sellers can sell books on Amazon for one cent, but it seems to be available in some fashion on Amazon.com (can anyone explain this to me? They charge $3.99 for shipping, but that hardly makes them any money). Anyway, my friend couldn't find the translator, but he told me to research "the 1972 Viking Penguin reprint," because that's the one they use in this book.

I asked him to type out the first sentence of the translation, and it is this: "The big liner, due to sail from New York to Buenos Aires at midnight, was filled with the activity and bustle incident to the last hour...." - that is the edition that you want.

Interestingly, my friend and I are also chatting, and he said the only reason he found the book was because he's insisting that his friend read "Schachnovelle," adding, "It is the greatest short story I know," and this guy is a hyper-genius. 

Get this edition and read it!

(*) OMFG - the entire edition is online! It's not the most enjoyable way to read a book, but you can at least *read the book* if you don't mind scrolling through the pages (I personally *hate* doing this - it's like listening to a great piece of music through a pair of earbuds, and in my opinion, ruins the experience).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 4/10/2016 at 8:21 AM, DonRocks said:

To put the admittedly hyperbolic statements above in perspective, Fyodor Dostoyevsky would also be on that list, which you could count with the fingers of one hand. Structure and architecture are two extremely important things to me, and Zweig's structure cannot be improved upon - it's like reading a Bach Fugue.

It is like Bach in its structure, but for me there is a greater parallel applicable, if I may use a Glenn Gould quote to this purpose:

"I think that if I were required to spend the rest of my life on a desert island, and to listen to or play the music of any one composer during all that time, that composer would almost certainly be Bach. I really can't think of any other music which is so all-encompassing, which moves me so deeply and so consistently, and which, to use a rather imprecise word, is valuable beyond all of its skill and brilliance for something more meaningful than that -- its humanity."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is "The Royal Game" the only story by Zweig in "Understanding the Arts?" Stiff translation aside, I think every Zweig story in "The Royal Game & Other Stories," is worth reading. I read the collection a year and a half ago, and I vividly remember each one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 4/11/2016 at 8:23 PM, DIShGo said:

Is "The Royal Game" the only story by Zweig in "Understanding the Arts?" Stiff translation aside, I think every Zweig story in "The Royal Game & Other Stories," is worth reading. I read the collection a year and a half ago, and I vividly remember each one.

Yes, it is - they use it as a basis and an ongoing example for the rest of the book: the author's original thoughts on what, exactly, constitutes "great art." I never read the book; only the novella, because after I finished it, I was so excited that I forgot to read the rest of the book I'd intended to read!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I saw Don's tweet about the book and after reading his review, I ordered a copy of Understanding the Arts. I mean, if I love his food recommendations what are the odds I'll also like his reading recommendations? Probably, pretty good. 

Before I even started the story, I knew I was going to enjoy the overall book. As a pre-law and poli-sci college student I suffered through several required philosophy courses so the opening paragraph made me chuckle and maybe even feel a little vindicated from my struggle...

 CgB1mJCUEAAt1Vz.jpg

But on to the story. I won't pretend I'm a deep thinker because I'm certainly not but I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I found that it sped up as the story progressed and by the last third of the story my heart was pounding and I had to consciously slow my reading down so as not to miss anything because I was so eager to see how it ended. 

I couldn't stop thinking about Zweig's mindset while writing the story and how that may have effected the story and in the same sense how the process of writing the story may have effected him. I enjoyed so many aspects but I particularly appreciated that it all took place on a ship. The setting gave each of the characters the time and separation to really live in that moment separated from their lives. 

Its certainly a story that sticks with you. In fact, its been several weeks since I read it and I'm tempted to read it again. I imagine its a story that you can pull something new from with each read. 

As for books online, I agree, its not my first choice but for a lot of books that are no longer in print I appreciate it. I've read several through the free online service, The Gutenberg Project. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, nmorrell said:

But on to the story. I won't pretend I'm a deep thinker because I'm certainly not but I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I found that it sped up as the story progressed and by the last third of the story my heart was pounding and I had to consciously slow my reading down so as not to miss anything because I was so eager to see how it ended. 

I couldn't stop thinking about Zweig's mindset while writing the story and how that may have effected the story and in the same sense how the process of writing the story may have effected him. I enjoyed so many aspects but I particularly appreciated that it all took place on a ship. The setting gave each of the characters the time and separation to really live in that moment separated from their lives. 

Its certainly a story that sticks with you. In fact, its been several weeks since I read it and I'm tempted to read it again. I imagine its a story that you can pull something new from with each read. 

Thank you for the kind words, nmorrell, and I'm *so* glad you enjoyed the novella. I'm so anxious for people to read this story that I want to keep pumping it a little bit. You can read it in a couple of hours, and it really is a flat-out masterpiece - I have yet to meet a single person who hasn't loved it.

Give it a try, and chime in here? I really want to have the Film, Music, Literature, etc. Forums to be active discussion areas. I still take all my meals out, but I've *always* been just as interested in cultural stuff as I am food and wine, and I'd love this part of the forum to be our fastest-growing segment. 

Also, keep in mind that "Understanding the Arts" isn't by Stefan Zweig; it just uses "The Royal Game" as a preface, before the book even begins, and then refers to it in the body of the book, basically asking the question, "Is this great art?" The mere fact that they used this story as an example almost answers the question by itself. But don't purchase "Understanding the Arts" thinking you're getting a compilation of Zweig; I only brought it up because it has an excellent translation of the novella, and it's a totally different animal, going on to discuss many, many other things besides this one tale.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...