The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

I read this book in two bursts. I can’t remember now why I interrupted it; I think work was pressing in on me. It is a life-affirming book but one which reflects the sad craziness of 1930s Europe, and its effects on people, clearly and plangently, like bell ringing out on a cold morning.

In his day, Zweig was a vastly popular author, his work translated into many languages. He has recently gained some prominence through the film The Grand Budapest Hotel, which was loosely based on his writings.

This is his memoir and one would be very hard pressed to find a more humane, generous-hearted narrator. He describes himself as a citoyen du monde, a citizen of the world, and he is right to do so. His life illustrates the huge loss to humanity, brought about by the rise of nationalism in Europe and its entrenchment in the shifts of population brought about by the Second World War, of that multi-lingual, multi-cultural class of people who once lived and thrived in places like Vienna, Paris, Prague and even London.

The closing section, about the fate of the Jews in Europe, is very moving. A very good book, which reminds us, should we need it, that peace and prosperity should never be taken for granted.


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