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The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

The World of Yesterday

by Stefan Zweig

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,555567,088 (4.36)69
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» See also 69 mentions

English (25)  Spanish (7)  Dutch (6)  Catalan (4)  French (3)  Italian (2)  Swedish (2)  Danish (2)  German (1)  Hebrew (1)  Norwegian (1)  Norwegian (Bokmål) (1)  All languages (55)
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
(Original Review from the German and English editions, 2002-06-05)

"The World of Yesterday" has its flaws - some of the scenes that Zweig claims to have witnessed, particularly around the outbreak and conclusion of the Great War seem such extraordinary coincidences as to be barely credible. And on the subject of style, it's hard for a non-native German speaker to judge, so the opinion of Michael Hofmann - who's such a magnificent and sympathetic translator of Zweig's far greater contemporary Joseph Roth - has to carry some weight.

But I can't help suspecting that Zweig's paying the price for his popularity here: the fact that his novellas were made into "women's pictures", that he was so fascinated with the past, and with the nuances of social hierarchy; that he dared suggest that the pre-1918 European order might, on reflection, have been a rather better world than what succeeded it. (It's not just Zweig; Roth's modern champions, including Hofmann, invariably play down, or appear properly embarrassed by his passionate late-flowering monarchism). Absolute anathema to "progressive" intellectuals then and now (though you can see why an Austrian Jew might have preferred the world of 1913 to that of 1938. And why an eloquent, readable advocate of those values could have had a massive inter-war following).

Which is not to deny a certain "pulp" quality in some of his writing. But still, while he may not have been a great stylist, he does have an ear for the telling phrase, and - in "Beware of Pity", for example - he evokes the values, social structures, tastes and feelings of an entire vanished civilisation to wonderfully vivid effect. In my view, it's second only to "The Radetzky March" as an evocation of the moment of the Austro-Hungarian apocalypse; and as a history teacher, I recommended it to students for evoking a "feel" of the period in a way that I simply couldn't with the less readable, but more intellectually respectable, Broch or Musil.

And let's face it, Zweig is hardly outselling Dan Brown in the English-speaking world. Better, surely, that he's read than not - and it'd be a shame if this academic spat deterred a single genuinely curious reader. ( )
  antao | Nov 20, 2018 |

This had been strongly recommended to me (thanks, Thomas!) and it was a good call. It is the memoir of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, about the artistic and writing circles where he grew up, and the impact on European civilisation of the First World War and the rise of Hitler. The overall tone is of course an arc from enthusiasm to depression; shortly after the book was sent to the publishers in 1942, Zweig and his wife, exiled from their home and with no prospect of return, killed themselves. The tone shifts noticeably from ruefulness to despair as the chapters roll on.

But to be more positive: Zweig wasn’t quite a stratospheric writer, but he was a huge fan of those who were, and a lot of the best passages of the book are essentially fannish anecdotes of encounters with writers and other artists who he admired. There’s a lovely early moment, for instance, when he is visiting Brussels and is present in the studio of sculptor Charles van der Stappen as he finishes off his bust of writer Émile Verhaeren, who Zweig deeply admired. It is a striking piece of art.

Other points that fascinated me:
Zweig’s friendship with Theodor Herzl, and the impetus given to Herzl’s thoughts on Zionism by the Dreyfus case - Herzl was actually present when Dreifuss was stripped of his rank and uniform.
the unsuccessful attempt by the new Austrian emperor to turn on the Germans and negotiate a separate peace with the Allies in 1917.
Richard Strauss challenging the Nazi regime by producing an opera written by Zweig.
Zweig’s friendships with Rilke and Rolland, neither of them writers I know much about but both sound very interesting.
Zweig embodies the concept of being a citizen of Europe, particularly once his homeland has turned on him. Of course that is not fashionable in some quarters today. Reading The World of Yesterday is a reminder of where we came from, and what was lost along the way. Well worth getting.

NB that the translation is by Anthea Bell, known to me in my childhood as the translator of the Asterix books. ( )
2 vote nwhyte | Mar 11, 2018 |
Enlightening from beginning to end. History from 1890-1940 from the perspective of an Austrian writer. He talks about his encounters with Freud, Mussolini, and just about every great writer alive during his lifetime. At times I felt like it had to be fiction because it read like Forrest Gump. Simply the best autobiography I've ever read! ( )
1 vote ryanone | Jan 3, 2018 |
It took me a while to finish but I absolutely loved reading this autobiography. I think it started with the title alone 'The world of Yesterday' and then there was the fact that Stefan Zweig, exiled somewhere in South America, took his own life (1942). When I read about his suicide, I immediately wondered why especially since he successfully fled before the war even started. By all means he should've been safe and happy to have escaped the worst - he was Jewish after all.

Having read this book now, I think I understand it better.
Zweig was a pacifist and someone that strongly identified with European culture. To see Europe being destroyed twice in one lifetime wasn't something he could live with. And what's maybe worse, he had to experience his works being banned and even burned.

Besides the previous reason, I'm always interested in more personal accounts of history. I think Zweig states it very well 'We know from experience that it is a thousand times easier to reconstruct the facts of an era than its emotional atmosphere. Its traces are not to be found in official event,s but rather in the small, personal episodes such as I should like to include here' [side note: this English translation isn't too great].

And lastly, I learnt quite a few things I missed in history class so that's a huge plus as well.
2 vote newcastlee | Dec 30, 2017 |
memoir, history, Austria, war, Nazism, European politics, ( )
  shelfoflisa | Sep 5, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Det är en kulturgärning av ansenligt format, att den här boken åter gjorts tillgänglig.


» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stefan Zweigprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bell, AntheaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gleichmann, GabiAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hagerup, AndersTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hagerup, IngerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heerikhuizen, F.W. vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Toorn, Willem vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Toorn, Willem vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zohn, HarryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When I attempt to find a simple formula for the period in which I grew up, prior to the First World War, I hope that I convey its fullness by calling it the Golden Age of Security.
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"Austrian writer Stefan Zweig's final work, posted to his publisher the day before his tragic death, brings the destruction of a war-torn Europe vividly to life. Written as both a recollection of the past, and as a warning for future generations, The World of Yesterday recalls the golden age of literary Vienna; its seeming permanence, its promise, and its devastating fall. A truthful and passionate account of the horror that tore apart European culture, The World of Yesterday gives us insight into the history of a world brutally destroyed, written by a master at the height of his literary talent." -- Publisher's description.… (more)

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