Thursday, September 28, 2006

Two Book Reviews

I hadn't heard of the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig before but his book Beware of Pity, which has been recently reissued, sounds extremely interesting specially after reading this excellent essay in the new york review of books:

Zweig was a friend and admirer of Sigmund Freud, his fellow Viennese, and it was no doubt Freud's writings, together with the experience of two world wars, that persuaded him of the fundamental irrationalism of the human mind. Absolutely central to his fiction is the subject of obsession. And so it is with Beware of Pity. To my knowledge, this book is the first sustained fictional portrait of emotional blackmail based on guilt. Today, it is a commonplace that one person may enslave another by excessive love, laced with appeals to gratitude, compassion, and duty, and that the loved one may actually feel those sentiments—love, too, of a sort—while at the same time wanting nothing more than to be out the door. But even in the iconoclastic Thirties, gratitude, compassion, and duty were not yet widely seen as potential engines of tyranny. It was partly for his cold examination of those esteemed motives that Zweig admired Freud—"he enlarged the sincerity of the universe," Zweig wrote—and in Beware of Pity he carried the analysis forward.

Like his fellow Jewish German writers, Paul Celan and Walter Benjamin, he also took his own life. Salman Rushdie calls him a "dark and unorthodox artist."

Daniel Mendelsohn, who writes about theatre and Classics in the new york review of books, has written a family memoir about the holocaust. Here is the review. It is very well written.

Reviews of the same book from new york times here and here. Sad and depressing but worth reading.

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