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The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World Hardcover – 23 Oct 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Granta (23 Oct. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1783781149
  • ISBN-13: 978-1783781140
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 2.9 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 303,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Prochnik's portrait could hardly be bettered' --Independent

'A gripping, unusually subtle, poignant, and honest study' --New York Review of Books

'Prochnik's perceptiveness and gentle humor slip us inside the meticulously cultivated persona... Fascinating' --Vogue

'A different approach to understanding Zweig has long been needed, and now at last we have it... Brilliantly accomplished and genre-bending' --New Statesman

'Sensitive and enthralling... Prochnik's book is a joy to read, and that is simply down to the quality of his writing... he supplies [a] poetic charge, with occasional baroque flourishes. The Impossible Exile, more than any book of literary criticism could, takes you into the world from which his writing sprang' --John Carey, Sunday Times

'Richly rewarding... The Impossible Exile is more than an invaluable account of a remarkable writer and his tortured soul. It is 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, which should lead new readers to an unjustly neglected literary master' --The Times

'Enthralling' --'Must Reads', Sunday Times

'A fine book... 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. It is impossible to read The Impossible Exile without wanting to spend more time in Zweig's company' **** --Daily Telegraph

'A haunting, tragic work' --'Book of the Year' chosen by Simon Winchester, New Statesman

'Touching' --Philip Hensher, Spectator

'A haunting, tragic work' --'Book of the Year' chosen by Simon Winchester, New Statesman

'Prochnik's concise account of his subject's life and tragic death is drenched in detail. Personal lively and warm, it is the perfect gateway to Zweig's work' --'Book of the Year', Claire Lowdon, Sunday Times

'Enthralling' --Mail on Sunday

'This sensitive and beautifully written book is more than just a biography of a great writer, it is also the obituary of a civilised and cosmopolitan European civilisation that was swept away by Nazi barbarism' --Biography of the year, The Times

'Enthralling' --Mail on Sunday

'Thoughtful, evocative and quietly gripping' --Boyd Tonkin, Independent

'A fine study of the life and times of Stefan Zweig' --'Book of the Year' chosen by Oliver Kamm, Sunday Times

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.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amanda Jenkinson TOP 500 REVIEWER on 5 Sept. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
This is not a conventional chronological biography of Stefan Zweig, but something rather more complex and interesting. It focusses on the later stages of Zweig’s life – his wanderings to Britain, the US and finally Brazil, and his attempts to recreate the sort of intellectual life he had been so much part of in Vienna – and from a strictly biographical point of view is indeed interesting and illuminating. Any biography, of course, does at least that – tells of the life of its subject. But here George Prochnik breaks out of the bounds of an ordinary biography to look at the wider picture. He examines how emigration and exile impacted on Zweig and those around him, including his niece, but also discusses emigration and exile in more general terms. Some of the chapters feel more like essays than anything else – there is one particularly interesting one in which he talks about the coffee house culture of Vienna and Europe in general, as well as its importance to Zweig himself. Prochnik’s own family was very similar to the Zweigs and he refers to their experience of emigration to the US. This inclusion of his personal story is well integrated to the narrative of Zweig’s own odyssey and makes for a richer tale about those years of turmoil after the rise of Hitler. All in all I found this a compelling and extremely readable book and I very much enjoyed its multi-faceted approach.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Richard Brown TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 4 Dec. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This a book about exile. It's a long, discursive meditation on it, focusing on the peripatetic life of the great Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. It is a fine example of what might be termed 'the new biography' which eschews the linear narrative approach, the cradle-to-grave account, in favour of a series of linked chapters, which have the feel of essays. Each one of these have a sort of focus, eg friendship; New York, which he visited four times and lived for a while nearby; his love of books and autograph manuscripts; relations with his mother (who was deaf) and his need for silence; his Jewishness and relationship to Zionism - he rather favoured the diaspora; his ambiguous attitude to the language of his pen, which the Nazis were busy corrupting; the importance of the Viennese and Parisian cafes where artists, writers and thinkers could meet to exchange ideas (alas, no cafe culture in the USA or Brazil!); his stay in Bath and his thoughts on the English love of gardening, the calmness of the English in the face of war, their lack of a certain spiritual wildness; the new freedoms he found in Brazil, in terms of the inhabitants' freer attitudes to race and sex; living beside a jungle which took you into the heart of untamed nature. Prochnik roams freely over these and many other points of interest, linking them to the biographical facts and meditating on their possible meanings.

He sometimes puts the narrative in the context of his own family history, drawing parallels with his own father's emigre experience. This brings a personal element of quest into the story - a post-modern approach to biography which is increasingly common within the genre.

It's not always an easy read, though the style is clear and elegant.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By W. A. Featherby on 1 Dec. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a strange book. Firstly, it is difficult to navigate, eschewing as it does, chronology, cohesive thematic organisation and (unpardonably) an index. Secondly, there are curious omissions: for example, although Zweig left his late relationship with Richard Strauss largely out of his autobiography (probably to avoid compromising Strauss who was still in Nazi Germany when it was publiched, their relationship having already landed Strauss in hot water with Goebbels), that is no reason for the author to have done so. (The author seems to be unfamiliar with the important Strauss / Zweig correspondence in the early 1930s (published in English translation 1977); if he is, he does not mention it.) Thirdly, to concentrate on the exile of this wonderful man skews and unduly blemishes his life. It is a matter of judgment, but many would doubt that it was self-imposed exile to a remote Brazilian town rather than, say, New York, that drove Zweig and his young wife to suicide; after all, few exiles killed themselves and nearly all were in a far worse predicament than the well-off Zweig. The author is far too quick to gloss over the fact that, while taking his own life was his own privilege, Zweig's apparent moral pressure on his wife to do the same, poorly though she was, is surely unforgivable.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dr. R. Brandon TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 5 Jan. 2015
Format: Hardcover
I have to admit to being rather disappointed with this book after reading the very fulsome praise in the press. Perhaps there was a hint in the reviews when mention was made of the ‘unusual non-linear’ format.
It seems that neither of the two recently published biographies of Stefan Sweig has been entirely successful. The earlier, ‘Three Lives: A Biography of Stefan Sweig’ by Oliver Matuschek has been criticised for failing to capture the essence of the man whilst dealing well with the facts of his life, whereas this present work deals with little more than the thought and philosophy of Sweig whilst omitting almost all the key biographical and literary details.
The book is divided into somewhat mysterious non-chronological chapter headings that often have little to do with their content, which possibly justifies the absence of a contents list, or even more serious, an index. The chapters vary greatly in relevance and interest with perhaps the best being that dealing with Viennese coffee house society. Others deal, somewhat repetitively, with Zweig’s feelings of alienation when in exile in England, the USA and finally Brazil; perversely always seeking peace and quiet and then when achieving it being totally dissatisfied with the absence of intellectual society. The book would, perhaps, have been better titled, ‘A Study in the Psychology of Exile’ as much of the content is given over to this question. Prochnik even indulges himself by bringing his own family history into the narrative although this has little relevance to the life of Zweig other than the shared experience of exile from Fascist Vienna.
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