Tuesday 9 October 2018

Weidermann, Volker "Summer Before the Dark"

Weidermann, Volker "Summer Before the Dark: Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, Ostend 1936" (Ostende - 1936, Sommer der Freundschaft) - 2014

This is a highly interesting book about German authors before and during World War II. Two very famous and important German (Austrian). Stefan Zweig was rich and successful, Joseph Roth was an alcoholic and on his way to destruction, even without the help of the Nazis. Both of them were in big danger, they were Jewish.

Stefan Zweig had spent a summer in Ostend, at the Belgian coast in the summer of 1914. In 1936, he goes back there again and invites many of his friends and colleagues to join him. Besides Joseph Roth, there are many other authors and editors, Irmgard Keun, Egon Erwin Kisch, Ernst Toller with his wife Christiane Grautoff, Arthur Koestler, Hermann Kesten, Émile Verhaeren, James Ensor, Štefan Lux, Soma Morgenstern, Annette Kolb, most of them refugees, most of them banned from publishing in Germany, but also non-authors, political activists like Willi Münzenberg, Otto Katz, Etkar André, Géza von Cziffra, Olga Benário Prestes.

In this novella, the author tries to retell the story of their meeting, their hopes and their despairs. He manages to build a picture about the end of a civilization and how it was hurtling down its own destruction. How many good and brilliant people have ended in this war, how much could they have told us, how much could they have discovered?

We can follow the writers in their view about the political situation, how different people try to do different things about it - or not. A totally interesting way to look at history from within.

Quite a few of them met later on in Sanary-sur-Mer in the South of France where many of them were interned as enemy aliens and some of them even sent to Auschwitz. Today, there is a commemorative plaque for the exiles.

From the book cover:

"It's as if they're made for each other. Two men, both falling, but holding each other up for a time.

Ostend, 1936: the Belgian seaside town is playing host to a coterie of artists, intellectuals and madmen, who find themselves in limbo while Europe gazes into an abyss of fascism and war. Among them is Stefan Zweig, a man in crisis: his German publisher has shunned him, his marriage is collapsing, his house in Austria no longer feels like home. Along with his lover Lotte, he seeks refuge in this paradise of promenades and parasols, where he reunites with his estranged friend Joseph Roth. For a moment, they create a fragile haven; but as Europe begins to crumble around them, they find themselves trapped on an uncanny kind of holiday, watching the world burn."

The author has also mentioned many many books by all those interesting authors:

Auden, W. H. "No more Peace"
Brecht, Bertolt "The Threepenny Opera" (Dreigroschenoper)
Hašek, Jaroslav "The Good Soldier Švejk" (Der Brave Soldat Schwejk)
Hesse, Hermann "Heumond" (no translation)
Huxley, Aldous "Brave New World"
Kesten, Hermann "Philipp II." (König Philipp II.)
Keun, Irmgard "After Midnight" (Nach Mitternacht)
Koestler, Arthur "Darkness at Noon" (Sonnenfinsternis)
Mann, Heinrich "Im Schlaraffenland" (no translation), "Weg zum Hades" (no translation)
Mann, Klaus "Mephisto" (Mephisto)
Mann, Thomas "The Magic Mountain" (Der Zauberberg)
Maupassant, Guy de "Bel Ami" (Bel Ami)
Neumann, Alfred "Das Kaiserreich" (La Tragédie impériale, trilogy)
Rilke, Rainer Maria "The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christoph Rilke" (Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke)
Roth, Joseph "Confession of a Murderer" (Beichte eines Mörders, erzählt in einer Nacht), "Weights and Measures" (Das falsche Gewicht), "The String of Pearls" (Die Geschichte der 1002. Nacht), "The Legend oft he Holy Drinker" (Die Legende vom Heiligen Trinker), "Erdbeeren" (Fragment) (no translation), "Job" (Hiob), "The Ballad of the Hundred Days" (Die Hundert Tage), "The Wandering Jews" (Juden auf Wanderschaft)
Schnitzler, Arthur "Der Ruf des Lebens"
Zweig, Stefan "Anton", "Das Buch als Eingang zur Welt", "Maria Stuart", "The Royal Game/Chess Story/Chess" (Schachnovelle), "Decisive Moments in History" (Sternstunden der Menschheit), "Beware of Pity" (Ungeduld des Herzens) (his only novel). Most of these stories are short stories or novellas. They might have been translated but I didn't find many of them.

He has also mentioned many other authors without listing any of their works which are all worth reading:
Honoré de Balzac, Paul Claudel, Richard Dehmel, Fyodor Dostojewsky, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Gernard Hauptmann, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Gustav Mahler, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Friedrich Nietzsche, Leo Tolstoy, Frank Wedekind, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde


  1. Replies
    1. I've been saying that to myself for ages and there is a book on my TBR pile now.

      Thanks for stopping by, I always enjoy your posts.

      Happy Reading!

  2. Very interesting! I have read Arthur Koestler's novels, including Darkness at Noon.

    1. That is interesting, he is not that well-known in Germany nowadays, so great that you read them. They are on my list now.

      Have a great reading week!