Monday, April 10, 2017

The Invisible Collection & Buchmendel - Stefan Zweig

It's Kaggsy and Simon's 1951 book club this week - I love these, it's a fascinating way to get an overview of both a year in books, and of certain books through the lens of several different readers - so it's a little bit shaming that I haven't been more organised about my reading for it (this might have been a good week to finally get to grips with Graham Greene, but I don't think it will be now). I could also have used it as a good excuse to re read Robertson Davies' 'Tempest Tost' (love his writing, loved this book read in pre blogging days) but that's not on the cards now either (damn work for interfering with reading time).

What I have read, and which I think qualifies, is a couple of Steven Zweig stories that came in a particularly neat little package. They were originally published in Great Britain in 1951, although the stories were obviously written long before then. Still, if 1951 is when they became available to an English reading audience that's enough for me.

Zweig is a writer I seem to have collected plenty of books by, but haven't read nearly enough of. That has to change, because he's wonderful, though maybe not for reading on buses or in staff dining rooms, as both stories in this book had me in, or in the edge of, tears almost all the way through.

The Invisible Collection (an episode of the inflation period in Germany) is narrated by an art dealer who has gone to visit an elderly man in search of stock. He knows this man has a wonderful collection of prints and hopes he'll part with some of them. What he finds is a blind man who's family are keeping a secret from him. It's a glimpse of the misery the treaty of Versailles caused in Germany,  and of the lies we tell those we love. It's also a perfectly balanced story, elegantly making it's points without being heavy handed.

Buchmendel discusses the casual cruelty of bureaucracy and change. A man takes shelter in a Viennese cafe, slowly realising he knew it in his student days when it was famous for being the unofficial office of an eccentric Jewish book peddler; Buchmendel. Before the (first) war people sought him out for his encyclopaedic knowledge, but after innocently, if stupidly, falling foul of authority he goes to prison, he does not emerge as the same man. Things change and Buchmendel is left behind, broken, and quickly forgotten. It's a small tragedy - but more than enough to get under my skin.

I don't want to make trite observations about what I think Zweig is trying to do, others will already have said it better, and anyway, it's probably something the individual reader should decide for themselves. What I do want to say is read him.

9 comments:

  1. I've read Zweigs The Post-Office Girl. It's unfinished, but it has a chilling beauty that makes reading it very, very worthwhile. (There's a lot of food and wine in it too, by the way.) The World of Yesterday is on my reading list, but so far I haven't come round to it.

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  2. I don't know why I haven't read more of him, he's remarkable, and I have plenty of his books lying around just waiting for attention. It's the same old story about being more organised. I'm going to make the effort though!

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  3. I love these two stories and I hadn't picked up the 1951 connection. I'd always quote Buchmendel at anyone who claims Zweig is lightweight - he isn't and both these stories are so powerful. I need to read more Zweig too!

    kaggsysbookishramblings

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  4. It was sheer chance that I noticed the date, but they were so good that I felt particularly pleased with myself when I did. The Invisible Collection is going to live long in my memory - it's a perfect short story, and more generally just a perfect gem of a thing.

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  5. I read the Pushkin Press collection of stories last year and picked out both of these stories to blog. 'Mendel' was a brilliant character study of a man caught up in world events and 'The Invisible Collection' was a perfectly humane story by a master storyteller.

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    1. I can't put into words how much The Invisible Collection got under my skin. I thought it was basically perfect. 'Mendel' almost as perfect. I really do need to read more Zweig.

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  6. Glad you've enjoyed the week, Hayley - they're such fun! And always good to hear more about Zweig - I've only read Confusion, but loved it.

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    1. They are fun, so thank you to you both for all the work you put in to it.

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  7. I read The Post Office Girl a few years ago and absolutely loved it, then bought Beware of Pity and a massive omnibus of his collected short stories. I promptly shelved and ignored both of them. I think the sheer size of the collected stories is just too intimidating (and unwieldy, it's 720 pages!)

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