Beware of Pity (1939): Stefan Zweig

★★★★

When I was packing for my Vienna trip last week, one very important question was on my mind. What should I take to read? I always enjoy reading appropriate fiction on my travels, but it turned out that my collection of Austrian stories was rather limited. By stretching the rules, I ended up choosing this: the only full-length novel by Stefan Zweig, the wonderful essayist, biographer and short-story writer who was born in Vienna. Beware of Pity was first published in 1939 and looks back to the eve of another war, in 1914 on the borders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It’s a simple story, about an act of kindness that goes horribly wrong – and Zweig’s percipient understanding of human nature means that it resonates strongly even today.

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Messages from a Lost World (2016): Stefan Zweig

★★★★ ½

Europe on the Brink

Everyone has been talking about echo chambers recently. Those of us cosily insulated in our liberal-metropolitan-elite ivory towers, with our European friends and our Guardian diet, have had quite a wake-up call this year. We were lulled by our Facebook and Twitter feeds, which reflected back our own views ad infinitum, until it seemed inconceivable that anyone else could think differently. Now we find ourselves in a situation where we have to justify or, worse, defend our longing for a community greater than ourselves. In light of all this, Pushkin Press’s publication of Stefan Zweig’s essays is nothing short of inspired. Written a hundred years ago, these short pieces are charged with the despair of a generation which weathered two cataclysmic wars. They are terrifyingly relevant today. Simple, powerful and unapologetically intelligent, they’re absolutely vital reading as we wait in the shadow of Brexit. Unfortunately those who most need to read them are precisely those who won’t.

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