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Three Lives: A Biography of Stefan Zweig by…

Three Lives: A Biography of Stefan Zweig (2006)

by Oliver Matuschek

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494362,749 (4)None
My Three Lives was Stefan Zweig’s working title for The World of Yesterday, also published by Pushkin Press, and here Matuschek uses the title to reference the three major phases in Zweig’s life—the years of apprenticeship, the years of success as a professional "working writer" in Salzburg, and finally the years of exile in Britain, the USA and Brazil. Drawing on a wealth of newly available sources, Matuschek recounts the eventful life of a writer spoilt by success, which changed direction under the influence of contemporary events, and ended tragically in a suicide pact with his second wife Lotte.… (more)
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    The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig (rrmmff2000)
    rrmmff2000: Three Lives, the original title of The World of Yesterday, fills in some of the gaps that Zweig did not write about, particularly his family life and WW2.
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    The Last Days by Laurent Seksik (rvdm61)

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Stefan Zweig was one of the most popular and widely read and widely translated authors of the twentieth century, appreciated by the broad reading public as well as by the intellectual elite. He was friends with all the great writers of the age: Rilke, Thomas Man, Hesse. If he was brilliant, Zweig was his friend. All this fame didn't save him from the terrors of the 20th century. After the Nazi's burned his books and forced him into exile, he eventually ended his life in a double suicide with his second wife Lotte. Matuschek's biography, available in the original German and in a smooth English translation, is an essential complement to Stefan Zweig's stunning memoir, The World of Yesterday. His memoir meticulously sidesteps personal information, neither wife is mentioned by name. Matuschek has mastered the widely scattered papers, especially Zweig's wide ranging correspondence, sticks to the facts as they are documented, and fills in the puzzling gaps in the memoir. He quietly corrects and enhances Zweig's own writings, and his first wife Frederike's useful but necessarily biased accounts. Sometimes the reality check is a bit of a wet blanket: So when Zweig writes swooning prose about meeting his ideal poet, Hugo von Hoffmansthal, we also learn Hoffmansthal's opinion of him, not quite so flattering (Still the great Richard Strauss selected Zweig to be his librettist after HvH died.) When Zweig rejoices in his friendship with Freud, Matuschek uncovers Freud's resentment that Zweig included an influential sketch of him, Freud, together in the same volume with biographies of the quacks Mesmer and Mary Baker Eddy. (Still Freud enjoyed the fame that came with being in Zweig's best seller.) While clearly sympathetic with Zweig and admiring of his obvious genius as a writer, Matuschek is honest about Zweig's flaws, eg he was unnecessarily cruel to Frederike's daughters by her first marriage. He was offended that the girls didn't take an interest in his manuscript collection. Matuschek doesn't get overly judgmental, just the facts. He captures Zweig's restless nature, always traveling, always cultivating a circle of prestigious intellectuals, then retreating from the resulting social obligations into the provinces, only to be bored there and returning to the limelight. The cool prose smooths the story and keeps it from turning into a soap opera. Matuschek intuitively appreciates an important side of Zweig's career, his manuscript collecting. From childhood, Zweig was fascinated by the creative process and loved studying autographs and manuscripts of actors, musicians, writers and other creative types. He prized rough drafts with corrections that show the creative process in action. Zweig's archival collection was one of the finest in private hands, almost his family, so Matuschek takes time to trace its fate once the Nazis began to threaten the collector. They have his house, where the manuscripts were housed, searched for weapons. Zweig was never quite the same again. It is shocking to read how the embattled author decided to abandon his priceless holdings, so carefully acquired at great expense and meticulously cataloged. Suddenly he lost interest and dispersed it all. Some things were sold, others donated to libraries around the world, much went astray in during his restless travels in exile back and forth to London, New York, Ossingen, and Brazil. Without directly pointing it out, Matuschek lets the reader understand the depth of his depression when he abandoned his treasures. Instead of speculation about the suicide(s), he gives Zweig the final word and ends the biography with Zweig's simple but beautiful farewell letter to Frederike, explaining his decision to end his life, twice lamenting the loss of his books, and tellingly consoling her that with her daughters she has much to live for.
Politically Zweig was a pacifist, a believer in a united Europe, and a dedicated humanist. The tragedies of the 20th century knocked him off balance. In a way the current European Union is an effort to recover his kind of vision of a peaceful, united, cultured world. His vision endured. Matuschek's calm, accurate, detailed account of his life treats everyone in his circle evenhandedly and sympathetically. Even the literary spats are put in a balanced context. tI consider Matuschek's biography a quiet humanist masterpiece, documented with archives in a way Zweig would have appreciated. ( )
  ElenaDanielson | Jul 13, 2014 |
Though I enjoyed reading this very much and feel I have a better understanding of Stefan Zweig, I do not feel a review of this book imminent or necessary. It would be my suggestion to continue to read everything by and about this interesting writer and person. Ultimately it is a sad tale mostly due to the environment Zweig found himself in. There was no place left to go to escape the ravages of the second world war and in his mind he would never be able to ever go back home. ( )
  MSarki | Jun 5, 2013 |
This is a biography of Stefan Zweig, translated from the German. As the author explains in the introduction, Zweig's own autobiography (The World of Yesterday) is really a book about the times he lived through and has little of the personal information one might expect -- for example, his wife is mentioned only once, and not by name. The other main source of biographical information, written by Fredirike Zeig, his first wife, has some biases.

Three Lives (which was Zweig's original title for The World of Yesterday, and which ends abruptly at the start of WW2) fills in some of these gaps and takes his life forward into WW2 until his suicide in 1942. If you have read TWoY, there will be some repetition, but it does serve to create a better understanding of the man, his motivations, his working methods, his importance as a writer and collector of manuscripts. It also goes on to his more troubled life through WW2 and his eventual move to live in Brazil. The book ends with his valedictory letter to his first wife -- whilst tragic, by the end of the book one can sympathise with his despair have some understanding of his need to take his life ( )
1 vote rrmmff2000 | Jun 7, 2012 |
A readable biography about the still enigmatic life of Stefan Zweig. It follows Zweig's own classic Die Welt von Gestern in dividing his life into three parts (pre-WWI/Vienna 9 chapters; Interwar/Salzburg 4 chapters; Exile 3 chapters). While it sheds new light on Zweig's relations with his first wife and his stepdaughters, it is fairly quiet about Zweig's second wife and the allegations of homosexuality. About the latter, the author includes a number of insinuations and asides but does not commit himself. I wish the author had presented and discussed the case more thoroughly. Zweig and then modern technology (ie electricity, cars and radio) is also a topic used primarily for funny asides instead of discussion. Overall, a good but not lasting work. ( )
  jcbrunner | Nov 25, 2007 |
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