Novels of the Great War: the short stories by Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig (1881 – 1942)
We recently had the opportunity to read in Italian a collection of four short stories by the Austrian novelist, poet and playwright Stefan Zweig (Wien, 1881 – Petrópolis, 1942). All these stories are somehow related with the First World War and were conceived during those years even if published some years later. We will enlist in this post the four stories, giving evidence to their original titles in German, in order to put the readers in the condition to retrieve them in other Stefan Zweig’s books.

Die schlaflose Welt ("The Sleepless World", first published on the 18th of August 1914 on "Neue Freie Presse") reconstructs the exhausting sense of alert, pain and wait propagating all over the nights and days and tries to catch that shocking impact and turmoil in an apparently secondary aspect of life (or at least usually forgotten by WWI literature) the sleep-wakefulness cycle. Episode am Genfer See (“Incident on lake Geneva”, written during the spring of 1918 but released in Leipzig by Insel Verlag in 1929) is story of a Russian prisoner ending up in the neutral country of Switzerland, in the lake Geneva. The fact of being bewildered and moved from pillar to post has a deep influence in his short stay on the lake and will lead him to commit suicide swimming across the lake. “Incident on lake Geneva” represents an intense recognition of the vanity of all attempts of help among men. Der Zwang ("The Obligation", like the previous one written during the spring of 1918 and released in Leipzig by Insel Verlag in 1920) is another masterful interpretation of the influence of war in every single life. The protagonist is tormented by the inner conflict between replying to the call to arms and desertion. Of particular interest is the short reportage dedicated to the battlefield of Ypres, Ypres ("Ypres", released by "Berliner Tageblatt" on the 16th of September 1928), that we can read today as a first attempt to describe the huge machine willing to commercialize and sell the memory of World War I. To our eyes this story appears as an accurate meditation on the risk connected with the tourist movement rose around the Great War infamous battlefields and with the possibility of trivializing everything. Today we live on the edge, very close to this risk, but when Zweig wrote his story it was only the beginning. One different from the other, the WWI stories of Stefan Zweig show a new sensibility towards the theme and are able to move inside a poignant spectrum of shades and tonalities. The reader will be probably touched by Zweig’s ability to create characters tortured by a distressing feeling of exile, by an unsettling sensation of being elsewhere, both with body and with the mind.