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.