August 12, 2011

The Others - Stefan Zweig

There haven't been an awful lot of authors whose work I actually enjoyed reading back in high school. Most of the tomes they made us read were means of torture if you ask me, and in some cases I still shudder at the memories of these bookish ordeals when today someone suggests reading a novel by some acclaimed author that managed to traumatize me so early on.

One of the few authors I came to appreciate in my teen years was Stefan Zweig. He was an Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer, and at the height of his literary career, in the 1920s and 1930s, he was even among the most translated German-language writers before the Second World War.

I'm not going to claim to have read all his books, but the book that hooked me was his novella The Royal Game (sometimes: The Chess Story) about an imprisoned man who's being kept in total isolation by National Socialists and who only maintains his sanity through the theft of a book of master games which he plays endlessly in his mind. This poignant psychological drama was also the inspiration of the 1960 film Brainwashed.

How often does it happen that you read a book and it has such an impact on you that it stays with you for a long time? Not that often, that's for sure. It's safe to say that the fact of "a book" being so important in the book, has something going for it too. Despite the fact that the novella is incredibly well written, of course.
Especially the scene where the narrator happens to find the book is so very haunting. Whilst waiting to be questioned, he notices a bulge in the pocket of an officer's coat hanging near to where he is standing. He steals the book, which turns out to be, initially much to his dismay, a collection of one hundred and fifty championship games. In the end any book was welcome and it's that distraction that not only keeps him from boredom and loneliness but also makes him schizophrenic when he starts playing chess games against himself.

So sometimes it's worth to go back to the days when we were told what books we had to read, because despite of the horrible ones there are also great ones that tickled the book lover in all of us.

1 comment:

  1. Very true, I read die Schachnovelle years ago and it was so good. But I think this is the only thing I ever read by him.