It’s summer up here by the sea; the gaily coloured bathing huts glow in the sun. Stefan Zweig is sitting in a loggia on the fourth floor that faces onto the broad boulevard of Otsend, looking at the water… Perhaps his great friend, Joseph Roth will have some advice. His friend whom he’s going to meet later in the bistro, as he does every afternoon this summer.
It's as if they're made for each other. Two men, both falling, but holding each other up for a time.
Ostend, 1936: the Belgian seaside town is playing host to a coterie of artists, intellectuals and madmen, who find themselves in limbo while Europe gazes into an abyss of fascism and war. Among them is Stefan Zweig, a man in crisis: his German publisher has shunned him, his marriage is collapsing, his house in Austria no longer feels like home.
Along with his lover Lotte, he seeks refuge in this paradise of promenades and parasols, where he reunites with his estranged friend Joseph Roth. For a moment, they create a fragile haven; but as Europe begins to crumble around them, they find themselves trapped on an uncanny kind of holiday, watching the world burn.
A prominent writer of the 1920’s and ‘30’s, Stefan Zweig’s writing was extremely popular during his lifetime but had diminished until efforts to revive and republish his work since the 1990’s brought him to public consciousness again. He is best known for his novels Beware of Pity and The Post Office Girl as well as a wealth of novellas and short stories and his powerful memoir, The World of Yesterday completed in 1942 the day before his suicide.
Best known for his fictional saga The Radetzky March, the author Joseph Roth grew up in East Galicia and his experiences as a soldier on the Eastern Front in WWI as well as witnessing the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire and being forced to flee his home in Berlin in 1933, inspired his work as a journalist and author. He was prophetic in his foreboding about the coming of the Second World War, in 1933 writing to his friend Stefan Zweig he warned ‘They have succeeded in establishing a reign of barbarity. Do not fool yourself. Hell reigns’.
'Brilliantly researched and riveting' - Die Welt
‘Somewhat reminiscent of that other gem, Florian Illies's 1913: The Year Before the Storm, in the effortless combination of grand epoch-defining moments with seemingly mundane observations of the everyday, it's also steeped in that particular melancholy that permeates the works of both its subjects. Think the loneliness of Roth's The Hotel Years, or the nostalgia-filled pages of Zweig's memoir of Vienna's lost golden age, The World of Yesterday.’ – The Independent
A BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week
Publisher: Pushkin Press
Number of pages: 176
Dimensions: 198 x 129 mm
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