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The Impossible Exile
Cover of The Impossible Exile
The Impossible Exile
Stefan Zweig at the End of the World
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An original study of exile, told through the biography of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig

By the 1930s, Stefan Zweig had become the most widely translated living author in the world. His novels, short stories, and biographies were so compelling that they became instant best sellers. Zweig was also an intellectual and a lover of all the arts, high and low. Yet after Hitler's rise to power, this celebrated writer who had dedicated so much energy to promoting international humanism plummeted, in a matter of a few years, into an increasingly isolated exile--from London to Bath to New York City, then Ossining, Rio, and finally Petrópolis--where, in 1942, in a cramped bungalow, he killed himself.

The Impossible Exile tells the tragic story of Zweig's extraordinary rise and fall while it also depicts, with great acumen, the gulf between the world of ideas in Europe and in America, and the consuming struggle of those forced to forsake one for the other. It also reveals how Zweig embodied, through his work, thoughts, and behavior, the end of an era--the implosion of Europe as an ideal of Western civilization.

An original study of exile, told through the biography of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig

By the 1930s, Stefan Zweig had become the most widely translated living author in the world. His novels, short stories, and biographies were so compelling that they became instant best sellers. Zweig was also an intellectual and a lover of all the arts, high and low. Yet after Hitler's rise to power, this celebrated writer who had dedicated so much energy to promoting international humanism plummeted, in a matter of a few years, into an increasingly isolated exile--from London to Bath to New York City, then Ossining, Rio, and finally Petrópolis--where, in 1942, in a cramped bungalow, he killed himself.

The Impossible Exile tells the tragic story of Zweig's extraordinary rise and fall while it also depicts, with great acumen, the gulf between the world of ideas in Europe and in America, and the consuming struggle of those forced to forsake one for the other. It also reveals how Zweig embodied, through his work, thoughts, and behavior, the end of an era--the implosion of Europe as an ideal of Western civilization.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One The artists and intellectuals in Vienna were grappling with many of the same problems and aspirations that fueled the violent passions of their archenemies. Just as Hitler’s agenda was dominated by pan-Europeanism in the Napoleonic sense—to be achieved through conquest and maintained through the hegemonic rule of one nationalist culture—Zweig’s program was inspired by the dream of pan-Europeanism on a humanist model, to be achieved through peaceful, transnational understanding and ruled over by an elite assembly of scholars and artists. People on both sides of the cataclysmic debates over Europe’s destiny were educated in the same stultifying school system, shaped by the same sinister admixture of sexual repression and jingoistic militarism. They’d passed through the same faith-obliterating war, and lived with the lingering socioeconomic devastation of that conflict. The inspiringly cultured Viennese shared more of their nemeses’ concerns about the future of Europe and the need for a profound spiritual rejuvenation than we have yet reckoned with.
     
    Zweig himself had recognized—and even, momentarily, endorsed—the allure of National Socialism. After the September 1930 elections in Germany, when support for the National Socialists shot up from under a million votes two years before to more than six million, he blamed the stuffiness of the country’s old-fashioned democrats themselves for the Nazi victory, calling the results “a perhaps unwise but fundamentally sound and approvable revolt of youth against the slowness and irresolution of ‘high politics.’” Klaus Mann, twenty-five years Zweig’s junior, had to remind him that “not everything youth does and thinks is a priori good and pregnant with future. If German youth now turns radical should we not ask, above all, for the sake of which cause it rebels?”
About the Author-
  • George Prochnik's essays, poetry, and fiction have appeared in numerous journals. He has taught English and American literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is editor-at-large for Cabinet magazine, and is the author of In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise and Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam, and the Purpose of American Psychology. He lives in New York City.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 24, 2014
    Drawing on archival and personal material, Prochnik (Putnam Camp) examines the life of exiled Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (1881–1942) to shed light on the affliction of exile that redefined the lives and works of many intellectuals during WWII. Perhaps best known for his novellas, Zweig, who was Jewish, fled from his native Vienna and spent time abroad (New York, Rio de Janeiro), but was never able to adjust. While Zweig struggled to adapt to life in new countries, he also faced pressures as a high-profile intellectual who was expected to act as a political savior. Meanwhile, he continued to produce new work in a language that had been redefined by the Nazis and gradually went from being one of the world’s most widely read authors to one of diminished recognition. The book pays close attention to Zweig’s two wives: the first, Frederike, who would write a memoir that doubled as his biography; and Lotte, his amanuensis who would commit suicide by his side. Though Prochnik acts as a guiding consciousness throughout the book, he sometimes enters the narrative as a character, sharing personal anecdotes that provides glimpses into modern-day Austria. Though the book would have benefitted from more detailed discussions of Zweig’s fiction and why it warrants revival, this original and often ruminative study should find an appreciative audience. Fans of filmmaker Wes Anderson might also be interested, as Anderson recently said that his new film, Grand Budapest Hotel, is “our own version of a Zweig story.” Photos. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency.

  • Kirkus

    March 1, 2014
    Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) stands in for Europe's uprooted intellectuals in this elegiac portrait by Prochnik (In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, 2010, etc.). Zweig was one of the most famous and successful authors in the world in the 1920s and early '30s, best known for his novellas and breezy biographies of historical figures like Erasmus and Marie Antoinette. His fellow Viennese intellectuals might have slightly disdained his wild popularity--except that everyone loved this slight, dapper man with his "genius for friendship." When the Nazis came to power, Zweig was in a much better position that most, with plenty of money to fund his travels as he roamed from Switzerland to southern France to England and the United States in search of a refuge from the fascist madness. His relative comfort, however, could not make up for the trauma of being ejected from the culture that he, like many other German-speaking Jews, had believed belonged to them as well. "The world we loved has gone beyond recall," he gloomily told a fellow refugee in Manhattan in 1941. "We shall be homeless in all countries. We have no present and no future." Prochnik, himself a polymath writer with European Jewish roots, was prompted by the story of his own family, which also fled Nazi-occupied Vienna, to investigate Zweig's experience of exile. Unable to envision himself settled in America despite four stays in New York, Zweig finally moved to a small village in Brazil in 1941, hoping for peace in which to write. Prochnik sensitively considers his final books--the poignant memoir The World of Yesterday (1942) and Brazil: Land of the Future (1941), which determinedly celebrated his adopted country's embrace of "the humanist values his native Europe had so wretchedly betrayed." In the end, accumulating losses and dwindling hopes of a better tomorrow drove Zweig to commit suicide not long after his 60th birthday. Intelligent, reflective and deeply sad portrait of a man tragically cut adrift by history.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2014

    Little remembered in America, Austrian novelist, playwright, biographer, and intellectual Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) is still well known in Europe, his books routinely best sellers there, observes Prochnik (editor-at-large, Cabinet; In Pursuit of Silence; Putnam Camp) in his assessment of Zweig's legacy. In the 1930s, before the rise of Nazism in Europe, the prolific Zweig (Decisive Moments in History; Beware of Pity) was one of the most popular writers in the world. But the last years of Zweig's life were characterized by exile and a fall from grace remarkable--even unprecedented--for an artist of his stature, as he moved from Europe to America to Brazil seeking respite from the erosion of civilization as he knew it. In the autobiographical The World of Yesterday, Zweig describes his increased feeling of detachment as the experience of being pulled "from all roots and from the very earth which nurtures them." Along with his wife, Lotte, he committed suicide in Petropolis, Brazil, in 1942. VERDICT Accessible, compelling, and thorough without being pedantic, this literary and cultural biography offers keen insight into Zweig's life, particularly his final years. Readers interested in the evolution of literary and intellectual ideas in turn-of-the-century Europe or the biography of a largely forgotten literary force will appreciate Prochnik's compassionate treatment.--Patrick A. Smith, Bainbridge Coll., GA

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from May 1, 2014
    Once renowned, then long forgotten, the forever poignant Viennese writer and humanist Stefan Zweig (18811942) is now the focus of a revival. His books are back in print, Wes Anderson pays homage to Zweig in his film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Prochnik (In Pursuit of Silence, 2010) presents an exceptionally astute, affecting, and beautifully composed portrait and analysis of Zweig and his cherished and lost world. We learn that ZweigJewish, wealthy, cultured, cosmopolitan, and generousrejected the conventions of his social class as he devoted himself to writing and became a passionate collector and a consummate networker, forging connections among the intellectual and artistic luminaries of Europe. Zweig reveled in Viennese caf' society even as he craved privacy and silence. An international literary celebrity, who believed in the unifying power of education and art, Zweig was forced into exile as the Nazis first banned, then burned his books. Adrift in London, New York, and Brazil with Lotte, his much younger second wife, Zweig was spiritually shattered by the Nazi genocide and the arbitrariness of survival, gripped by a depthless despair that culminated in the couple's tragic suicides. Prochnik is so empathically attuned and committed to the full sweep of Zweig's by turns glimmering and sorrowful story that nothing goes unexamined or unfelt in this brilliant and haunting biography.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

  • The New York Times Book Review "[A]n intriguing...meditation on Zweig's last years. ...an intellectual feast served as a series of canapes. "
  • The Economist "Subtle, prodigiously researched and enduringly human throughout, The Impossible Exile is a portrait of a man and of his endless flight."
  • Anka Muhlstein, New York Review of Books "The Impossible Exile [is] a gripping, unusually subtle, poignant, and honest study. Prochnik attempts, on the basis of an uncompromising investigation, to clarify the motives that might have driven to suicide an author who still enjoyed a rare popularity."
  • The Times "Richly rewarding...a major work of historical and cultural criticism of Europe's darkest times...Zweig's haunted talent has never been better explored than in this exemplary study."
  • NewYorker.com "A terrific book...Prochnik focuses on Zweig's later years, discussing in detail his wanderings in the nineteen-thirties and forties--to Great Britain, the United States, and his last stop, Brazil. Zweig lived in New York for a while, and Prochnik movingly documents the toll that the author's peculiar prominence among the Jewish émigré community took on him, especially at a time when millions of Jews who remained in Europe were dying."
  • Vogue.com "[A] fascinating study of the author who escaped the Nazis only to take his own life in a Brazilian city in 1942, his second wife, Lotte, by his side...Zweig resists intimacy, but Prochnik's perceptiveness and gentle humor slip us inside the meticulously cultivated persona."
  • LA Review of Books "It's hard to imagine a better book about Zweig, or one more worthy of so complex and multi-faceted a personage. "
  • New Statesman "Prochnik's brilliantly accomplished and genre-bending book allows access to Zweig in a way that until now seemed impossible."
  • The Telegraph "[The Impossible Exile]has the essayistic virtues of brevity, personality and a relaxed gait...By breaking away from the cradle-to-grave narrative groove of traditional biography, Prochnik gives his thought, and his prose, free rein."
  • Bookslut "The Impossible Exile captures the intractable, persistent violence wrought upon those who escaped the physical trap of Nazism, but were nonetheless held captive by fear, and displacement from self and home."
  • Bookforum "Prochnik evocatively portrays the [New York] city Zweig knew [and] shows us what it meant for Zweig to be there--how hard it was to be one of the 'lucky' ones....[Prochnik] is particularly empathetic in writing about this dilemma."
  • Jewish Review of Books "A winning mix of travelogue and family memoir."
  • American Jewish World "Enlightening and enjoyable."
  • Flavorwire "One of the finest literary biographies of the year."
  • The Sunday Times "Sensitive and enthralling...A joy to read...takes you into the world from which [Zweig's] writing sprang."
  • Library Journal "Accessible, compelling, and thorough without being pedantic, this literary and cultural biography offers keen insight into Zweig's life, particularly his final years."
  • Kirkus Reviews "Stefan Zweig stands in for Europe's uprooted intellectuals in this elegiac portrait by Prochnik....[An] intelligent, reflective and deeply sad portrait of a man tragically cut adrift by history."
  • The Independent "George Prochnik's portrait could hardly be bettered... As he follows in Zweig's footsteps, Prochnik sheds light on the darkness that consumed him in his final years. And Lotte, too, emerges as a much more fully rounded figure. News of their suicide came as a terrible shock to Zweig's admirers and friends. The Impossible Exile makes that final act seem much more comprehensible."
  • New Criterion "[The Impossible Exile] both traces Zweig's meteoric rise and fall, and reveals a changing international climate where European and American ideas were frequently at odds."
  • The Sydney Morning Herald "Prochnik interprets Zweig with a fluidity few have achieved. Through a sympathetic melding of the writer's irreconcilable dichotomies--his philandering and selfishness, alongside his extravagant generosity even to those who abused him--Prochnik has created a baffling, loveable, wounded man who charmed the world, briefly, but could not protect himself even with the shields of money and prestige."
  • Booklist "Prochnik is so empathically attuned and committed to the full s
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