Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World, by George Prochnik

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

In this very humane book,  George Prochnik examines the terrible plight of the famous Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig.

Stefan Zweig, an Austrian novelist and biographer, was enormously popular in his day. At his height in the 1930s his books even sold well in the United States. His life should have been a happy one - literary success, fame and money were his. But as the Nazis marched to power, Zweig being Jewish found himself fleeing from country to country until it all became too much. He committed suicide with his second wife, Lotte Altmann, while seeking refuge in Brazil.

The Impossible Exile is not so much a biography of Zweig as a piece of psychoanalysis: what  finally pushed Zweig over the edge? Author George Prochnik is well placed to examine these questions. His father and grandfather fled Austria in the 1930s. Prochnik often returns to his family’s troubled history throughout the text.

This is a book that excels at contemplating the despair, hopelessness and suffering of Europe’s Jewish refugees. They were hounded from their own country because of political events that still mystify today. George Prochnik, in his poetic and illuminating prose, brings the reader to an understanding of why Zweig decided he could live no more, even though he was one of the lucky ones who escaped.

The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World, by George Prochnik. Published by Granta. ISBN: 9781783781140. RRP: $39.99

To sign up for our monthly newsletter, featuring new releases, book reviews and favourite articles from around the web, click here.