Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Journey into the Past - Stefan Zweig

Translated from the German by Anthea Bell

‘Ah, the dark, endless years between then and now, a grey sea between shore and shore, between heart and heart!’

This novella by Stefan Zweig is so beautifully written and even in a short work such as this, there were so many sentences and passages I found myself marking to return to and enjoy again.

The story is of a man born into poverty, working for little money as a private tutor, who takes up a position offered to him by a famous industrialist which enables him to raise up from his humble beginnings, and whilst employed he meets and falls deeply in love with the wife of his employer. He is given a great career opportunity, which involves relocating overseas for two years, to Mexico. Despite his love, he goes, and the two keep in touch by letter, focused on meeting once again once the two years have passed. However, the onset of World War I then serves to keep the two separate for many years longer.

Eventually they meet again, and the novella begins with them taking a train journey together again after all the years apart. As they travel, the recollections begin to flow and the reader learns how they met as he embarks on the journey into the past.

‘And while the rattling wheels invisible below them rolled onward, into a future that each of them imagined differently, the thoughts of both returned in reverie to the past.’

At times the feelings expressed and the behaviour are so deeply romantic; I was struck by the lengths he goes to in order to keep her letters safe and dry and close by him all the time whilst he is in Mexico. Zweig uses language so effectively to capture and convey human emotions and passions. The translation reads very well throughout.

Journey into the Past took hold of my heart and drew me into the intensity of feeling that once existed between this man and woman; it made me curious as to whether all that remained between them now was nostalgia or whether any of that once deep connection remained. I find the author’s words captivating and his understanding of human relationships and human nature so true and believable.

I have previously read The Post Office Girl, and Journeys, by Stefan Zweig, and next on my list of his works to read is Chess

Published by Pushkin Press

I bought my copy of this novella.

Read as part of the 2013 Translation Challenge 


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