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Customer Review

TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 25 January 2005
I came to this book with some trepidation, firstly because it looked rather long and dense (long is fine, but long and dense maybe not) and secondly because the topic of a mistaken love affair is not really up my street. However, it was the January choice of my book group, so I had to read it. Within a few pages I was hooked. The novel, set in the Austro-Hungarian empire in the early part of the 20th century, tells the story of a young second lieutenant who finds himself embroiled in a relationship with a partly paralysed 17 year old girl. Her family encourage the relationship and it is only when it is too late that he discovers the girl's love for him and also the impossibility of breaking her heart at a time she is about to embark on a new course of medical treatment, so she can get better "just for him". The novel is not just about love, it is about obsession, guilt, and the way the expectations of others can so easily dominate our choices so that we act as others expect us rather than as we want to. It is interesting to view this story in the light of modern assertiveness training, because all the way through the reader can see that Toni, the young officer, is subjugating his own needs for the needs of someone to whom he has no obligations whatsoever - he is in fact ruled only by her fantasies and the expectations of her father and sister.
The novel is remarkably suspenseful because the plot unfolds gradually and at each stage the reader cringes as the net of this sick love slowly ensnares him. It is full of strong characters: the doctor who treats the young woman and slowly enveigles Toni in her treatment regime; the old brutal colonel who turns out to be more wise than the other characters; the girls father who's whole life is a quest for his daughter's well-being. Different aspects of these characters are revealed as the novel slowly travels towards its inevitable conclusion and each one has a unique role in the ensnarement and ultimate release of the young officer.
The novel is beautifully produced by Pushkin press - the clear typeface, fine paper and strong cover makes this a pleasure to read. Alas, this is Zweig's only novel and I was left thirsting for more from this fine writer.
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