In 1938, Vienna Jew Stefan Zweig was the world’s most widely translated living author and a literary superstar.
Second son of a wealthy family, Zweig began writing before World War I and appeared often in Neue Freie Presse, newspaper of Theodor Herzl — Zweig’s mentor for a time. But Zweig, a pacifist and humanist who deplored nationalism, opposed Zionism.
Author George Prochnik calls Zweig “one of the most lionized writers in the world,” popular even in America into the 1940s. Prochnik does a good job of acquainting us and showing how Zweig was molded by his interests, genius and times — the last recounted in his hit memoir, “The World of Yesterday.”
Zweig, whose books were burned and banned in Germany, began his exile in 1934, first in Britain, then in the United States — which he found culturally backward — and finally in a town near Rio de Janeiro that he considered paradise for its scenery and civic harmony. Uncommonly among refugees, he had plenty of money, yet “he was no closer to finding a palliative for all he’d lost.”
Prochnik lightly salts this story with his own family’s exile from Vienna in 1938, adding a warm, first-person touch.
The story does not end happily, but it is enlightening and enjoyable.