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The Post-Office Girl (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – April 15, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 95 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Is it possible to have a realist fairy story? If so, this is it. The characters are so well realised and observed, and there are passages of such imaginative immersion, that we owe its publisher our gratitude for bringing it into English for the first time. What a treat this book is”. --The Spectator (UK)

“An exhilarating ski run of poverty, joy and misery... it is the girl's ecstatic naivety and Zweig's sparkling prose that makes the old stories so sweetly fresh and, when the whole dream collapses, so devastatingly sad”. --The Sunday Times (UK)

"In The Post-Office Girl Stefan Zweig explores the details of everyday life in language that pierces both brain and heart...The story is poignant, painful, and must be one of fiction’s darkest indictments of how poverty destroys hope, enjoyment, beauty, brightness and laughter, and how money, no matter how falsely, provides ease and delight." --The Spectator (UK)

"This is a fascinating depiction of the effects of history on individual lives." --The Financial Times

"The Post Office Girl is a fine novel and an excellent place to start if you are new to this great Austrian novelist. It is a powerful social history, describing in moving detail the social impact of the First World War, and the extreme poverty in which so many people were forced to live. It shows up the challenge to European civilisation of the early Thirties and the failure of humanism, in which Zweig believed until the end of his life. And it is remarkable for the bleak interior worlds it depicts of anxiety, self-doubt, depression and disintegration. Zweig succeeded in taking the most complex concepts of psychoanalysis and bringing them vividly to life." --The Telegraph

"Stefan Zweig was a late and magnificent bloom from the hothouse of fin de siecle Vienna...The posthumous publication of a Zweig novel affords an opportunity to revisit this gifted writer...The Post-Office Girl is captivating." --The Wall Street Journal

"... nowhere else in his fiction does Zweig confront the legacy of the Great War with as deep a social reach or as detailed a human sympathy as he does in The Post-Office Girl... we are lucky to have the book, not only for its devastating picture of postwar Austrian life but also because it represents so radical a departure from Zweig's other fiction as to signal the existence of a hitherto unsuspected literary personality..." —William Deresiewicz, The Nation

"[In this] ... beautiful translation by Joel Rotenberg.... Stefan Zweig finds a universal story of psychological struggle and spiritual testing in a bitter but humane indictment of class inequality. He finds a love story, of a sort, in a quest story, and a quest story in a love story. He finds anger in compassion, and compassion in anger; beauty in suffering, and suffering in beauty." --The New York Observer

"[Zweig is a] writer who understands perfectly the life he is describing, and who has great analytic gifts . . . " –Stephen Spender, The New York Review of Books

"Always [Zweig] remains essentially the same, revealing in all . . . mediums his subtlety of style, his profound psychological knowledge and his inherent humaneness." –Barthold Fles, The New Republic

"His writing reveals his sympathy for fellow human beings." –Ruth Franklin, London Review of Books

“The experience of reading Zweig is not so much of entering the world of the story as of plunging inward and dreaming the story.” –Rachel Cohen, Bookforum

“A brilliant writer.” –Louis Kronenberger, The New York Times

“Admired by readers as diverse as Freud, Einstein, Toscanini, Thomas Mann and Herman Goering.” –Edwin McDowell, The New York Times

About the Author

Stefan Zweig (1881—1942) spent his youth studying philosophy and the history of literature in Vienna and belonged to a pan-European cultural circle that included Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Richard Strauss. In 1934, under National Socialism, Zweig fled Austria for England, where he authored several novels, short stories, and biographies. In 1941 Zweig and his second wife traveled to Brazil, where they both committed suicide. NYRB Classics published his novels Chess Story and Beware of Pity.

Joel Rotenberg has produced NYRB original translations for Stefan Zweig’s Chess Story and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s The Lord Chandos Letter.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (April 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590172620
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590172629
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lonya VINE VOICE on June 20, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
. . . and in the lowest deep a lower deep,
Still threatening to devour me, opens wide,
To which the hel l I suffer seems a heaven."
John Milton, Paradise Lost

There are some books that you can finish, put back down on the table and five-minutes later have it virtually erased from your consciousness. Stefan Zweig's "The Post-Office Girl" stayed with me long after I put the book down. It is a brilliantly crafted book that looks at the mind-boggling despair that can crush the soul out of just about anyone. What makes the book memorable is the fact that Zweig does not write with an overwhelming appeal to pathos. No, instead, Zweig is direct and his narrative manages to convey this sense of despair without drowning the reader in rhetorical devices aimed at soliciting sympathy for his characters.

The setting is post World War I Austria in the 1920s. The Austro-Hungarian empire has been dismantled after the Treaty of Versailles and Austria, like her ally Germany, is suffering the `economic consequences of the peace'. The Post-Office Girl is Christine Hoflehner. At the war's outset, Christine and her family enjoyed a comfortable middle-class existence in Vienna. But the war and the economic suffering brought on by the hyper-inflation of the 1920s has booted Christine out of Vienna and her middle class life. She and her mother live at the poverty level in a one-room bed-sitter in a village two hours from Vienna. Christine works as a low-ranking postal official in the town's post office. As the story opens she's in her 20s and merely going through the motions. But her robot-like existence is shattered when she receives a telegram (a big event) from an aunt, her mother's sister, who left Austria before the war and married a rich American businessman.
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The Post-Office Girl is fastpaced and hardboiled--as if Zweig, normally the most mannerly of writers, had fortified himself with some stiff shots of Dashiell Hammett. It's the story of Christine, a nice girl from a poor provincial family who gets a taste of the good life only to have it snatched away; and of Ferdinand, an unemployed World War I veteran and ex-POW with whom she then links up. It's a story, you could say, of two essentially respectable middle-class souls who wake up to find themselves miscast as outcasts, but what it's really about, beyond economic and psychological collapse, is social death. Set during the period of devastating hyper-inflation that followed Austria's defeat in 1918, Zweig's novel depicts a country grotesquely divided between the rich and poor, so much so that it has effectively reverted to a state of nature. Christine and Ferdinand and Austria have been hollowed out (even if the country is still decked out in the pomp, circumstance, and pointless bureaucratic regulations of its bygone imperial heyday). They exist in a Hobbesian state of terminal desperation from which--the discovery arrives with mounting horror and excitement--the only hope of escape or redemption lies in violence.

Zweig wrote The Post-Office Girl in the early 1930s, working on it during years that Hitler rose to power and that saw Zweig, as a Jew, forced into exile. He appears to have considered the book finished, and yet he left it untitled and made no effort to publish. Why? My own hunch is that it was just too close to the bone. Zweig was famous all over the world as a writer of fiction and non-fiction and as a public intellectual.
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While Stefan Zweig's greatness as a writer has never diminished in Europe, he is much less known than he should be in the US. His novels as insightful, psychologically penetrating, and often charged with emotion. The characters in Zweig's fiction are often in a state of crisis: honorable people who have blundered into an impossible situation (or been thrust there by the forces of society). Zweig's ability to see deeply into the workings of the human psyche shouldn't be too surprising: he was, after all, a close personal friend of Sigmund Freud. "The Post-Office Girl" (a remarkably prosaic title for a book Zweig called "Intoxication of Transformation") is a late work, and remarkably bitter. Zweig often wrote about the impact of World War I on European culture, and in this work we get a male and female perspective on the hideous poverty that occurred in Austria after the War. Both of the main characters have been screwed by life. Christine lost her father and brother during the war, and ends up in a dead-end job, taking care of her ailing mother. She doesn't seem to realize how miserable her life is until a wealthy aunt offers her a vacation in Switzerland, and she sees what she's been missing. Returning to her drudgery, she's furious with the inequality of life, and when she meets Ferdinand, an equally angry veteran who has been struggling to get by since returning from a prison camp in Siberia, the two form an instant connection. Zweig uses Christine and especially Ferdinand to provide himself with a voice to lay bare the horrors of war, and the crushing burden that economic inequality creates. The self-absorbed, wealthy people Christine encounters on her vacation are played in high contrast to her petty bourgeois brother-in-law.Read more ›
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