27 May 08 | Chad W. Post

The “Spring Books” issue of The Nation is now out, with a lot of the content available online including pieces on Stefan Zweig and Imre Kertesz.

The Kertesz is a really positive review of both The Pathseeker (out from Melville House) and Detective Story (out from Knopf) by Ruth Scurr.

This year Tim Wilkinson has produced translations of the two short novels Kertész published in a single volume in 1977: The Pathseeker and Detective Story. Taken together, these translations are a wonderful opportunity to deepen our understanding of Kertész. While neither book is explicitly about the Holocaust, both assert the autonomy of fiction in its shadow.

Scurr has good things to say about Wilkinson’s translation as well:

In explaining something of the weight and importance of Kertész’s subjects and creative achievements, it is hard to convey simultaneously the deftness and vivacity of his writing: his sheer joy in making something new with words. Tim Wilkinson must be deeply responsive to Kertész’s delight in language to convey it so pervasively in his translations.

William Deresiewicz’s piece on Zweig’s The Post-Office Girl is also quite interesting, even if it does raise some questions about the book itself.

Zweig nibbled at The Post-Office Girl for years. The NYRB press material claims that the novel was found completed after its author’s death, “awaiting only minor revisions,” but the afterword to the German edition describes a manuscript in considerable disarray. Given that Zweig chose his own time of death, and given that he had just finalized two other works and dispatched them to his publishers, it seems clear that he never managed to hammer the novel into a shape that satisfied him.

Nevertheless, the book sounds fantastic—a sentiment echoed in an upcoming review of it that we’ll be posting over the next few days.

By renouncing the pleasures of vicarious feeling, The Post-Office Girl achieves an immediacy otherwise unequaled in Zweig’s fiction. No frame narrator screens us from the title character, 28-year-old Christine Hoflehner, postal clerk in the sleepy Austrian village of Klein-Reifling. The year is 1926. Christine shares a dank attic with her rheumatic mother. Her youth has been stolen by the war, along with her father, her brother and her laugh. But into the gloom of her days a sudden light breaks—a telegram from her aunt Claire, gone to America years before and now come back a rich lady. Claire invites her niece to join her on holiday in Switzerland. [. . .]

All of this represents an immeasurable advance over Zweig’s other fiction. Instead of a single emotion intensively examined within a narrow social frame—a fair description even, as its title suggests, of Beware of Pity, though that work is considerably longer than The Post-Office Girl—Zweig gives us fully rounded lives rooted in a broad historical context. This, he is telling us, is what the war has done to people. This is what history has made of their bodies. This is the fate of a whole generation. The question of historical luck, and thus of the possibility of alternative lives or selves, is everywhere at issue.


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