Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests





Monday, November 11, 2013

"Mendel the Bibliophile" by Stefan Zweig (1929, translated by Anthea Bell)

I am really glad I decided to once again participate in 


So far I have read and posted on these works, all but Kafka are new to me writers. 
The Tin Drum-by Gunther Grass
"The Judgement" by Franz Kafka
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque -very powerful war novel 
"A Letter from an Unknown Woman" by Stefan Zweig. 
The Death of the Adversary by Hans Klein - a work of genius
"The Job Application" by Robert Walser 
Chess Game by Stefan Zweig-I will read much more of his work
"The Battle of Sempach" by Robert Walser
I have also listed to podcasts of "Basta" and "Frau Wilkes" by Robert Walser
The March of Radetsky by Joseph Roth I hope to read all his work

Memoirs of an Anti-Semite by Gregor von Rezzori amazing work of art.

"Flypaper" by Robert Musil



Pushkin Press has just published The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig.  The stories have been translated from German by the award winning translator, Anthea Bell.  I love this collection though I do have an issue with it.  There are no explanations as to when the stories were first published or where. know Anthea Bell knows when these stories were first published and readers need this data.  In the case of "Mendel the Bibliophile" even a Google search did not find the information.  To anyone who ever edits a literary anthology, please include original date and place of publication information.  

Note added-Susie Cat has found this story online in German and kindly supplied us with the 1929 publication date.  My great thanks to her!


I have already read and posted on "A Letter From an Unknown Woman" (included in this collection) and his short novel, Chess Game.  I like both of these items  a lot and see them as world class works of art.  My blog is in theory about literary works on people who lead reading centered lives.  I have deviated a lot from this but it still is the core identity of The Reading Life.  It is almost as if in  "Mendel the Bibliophile" Stefan Zweig has written the perfect reading life story. I love this story beyond reason.  I would repudiate all criticism of it.  I am getting very into stories of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire and its imperial capital Vienna.  Related to this, many of the best writers of the Empire, including Zweig, were Jewish,  is my burgeoning interest in Yiddish literature.  These are very intricate relationships.  Old Vienna at its apogee and Yiddish societies were very much cultures of the book.  There were many speakers of Yiddish in the Empire.  These were both doomed cultures.  

"Mendel the Bibliophile" is one of the greatest works about a reading centered life I have ever read. The only way to read it is in the new anthology, which I do endorse buying.   This story is told by a man revisiting a cafe in Vienna he has not been to in twenty years.   He is amazed to see Jakob Mendel, a famous bibliophile and renowned dealer in books sitting in the same table he saw him at twenty years ago.  Mendel has an incredible memory and knowledge of books.  Collectors all over the world contact him, he gets his mail at the cafe, seeking titles.  He cares nothing for money but his small expenses.  He has turned down huge offers from wealthy patrons to manage libraries.   

There is just so much in this story.  It has a lot to say about Viennese culture, Jewish life in the Empire, memory, the love of books, and the absurdity of life in war.  The ending is heartbreaking in its sadness and when I saw the meaningless way Mendel's life ended I was deeply moved.  

Loving reading and loving physical books are overlapping things but they are far from the same.  I read almost exclusively e-books and much prefer that experience. Normally I am sentimental over only a few cherished books.  I see the e book as opening up a vast new world of reading possibilities.   But I also see the tears of Jakob Mendel and I hope I understand what he is weeping for.

There are 22 stories in the 750 pages of The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig.   I hope to read and probably will post on all of them. 



4 comments:

SusieCat said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buchmendel

SusieCat said...

http://de.wikisource.org/wiki/Buchmendel
original German text with information about where it was published (including a facsimile of the page).
It was published in the Neue Freie Presse, Nr. 22396–22398
on 1.–3. November 1929
Publisher: Österreichische Journal-A.G.
Published in: Wien (Vienna)

Caroline said...

I haven't read this story but your lovely review put me in the mood. The Café culture in Vienna is something I find so appealing.
I totally garee with you - I want to know when a book is published, I always add the publication year of books to my title even. It's so confusuing when you don't know.

mel u said...

Caroline- this is a truly amazing story - I discovered there was a time Zweig was the most translated German author