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Book 16 Completed

March 8, 2010

I’ll admit I wasn’t looking forward to this book. Post World-War-I Austria? Dark and despairing? Written and left unfinished by Zweig — discovered after his suicide in a pile of papers? I couldn’t imagine that all those glowing reviews would mean that I would like it — I mean, that hasn’t been a good indication before.

But I love this book. I’m in love with this small book from Austria. It has classic written all over it — it’s quotable and powerful; Zweig had his pulse on the human condition and Christine is a fantastic tragic character. In some ways the story seems cliche: Your basic rags to riches plot. But it’s rags to riches to rags again — and therein lies the emotional foundation where Zweig builds his narrative. It’s fascinating to me that he wrote this in the 1930s, it wasn’t published until the 1980s, and it wasn’t translated into English until 2008. He has been virtually impossible to read in the United States until the last few years — non-existent to American readers. It totally makes me wonder what else is out there waiting to be discovered. 

The Post-Office Girl is just as poignant today as it could have been in the 1930s. The themes are universal, timeless. I’ve read so much about the horrors of communism, this book makes one thing clear: Capitalism isn’t a picnic either. Christine takes care of her dying mother in an impoverished Austria; then she lives the dream in Switzerland with her aunt and uncle; then she is discarded like garbage; after that she finds solace in Ferdinand, a rebel from the war. It is with Ferdinand where the book ends — a striking ending, with absolute uncertainty — that buries itself deep within your brain. Is Christine really out of options? Is this ending her only hope?

I’m so sad for Stefan Zweig — who committed to a suicide pact with his wife while living in total fear of a Nazi/Communist world. A Jewish man living in exile of his home country, his deep sadness for the future of the world is evident in this particular book. His legacy as a writer was buried for years, but I hope that a new generation discovers his works and brings his man into the recognition he deserves. Yes, I stumbled across this book…but I’m so glad I did. Pick this up. It will remind you of The Great Gatsby, it will ring with truth and sadness; it begs teaching. Maybe I’m over-selling it a bit, but I hope not. Tonight, when I finished it, I was totally sad it was over.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jessica permalink
    March 10, 2010 8:40 pm

    Shelbi, I just put this on hold at my local library based on your review. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had it (not available on Kindle) and look forward to using my library card again (it’s been at least two years. Kindle spoils me).

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