Summer before the dark by Volker Weidermann

Summer before the dark by Volker Weidermann

German fiction

Original title – Ostende. 1936, Sommer der Freundschaft

Translator – Carol Brown Janeway

Source – Library book

When Lizze mentioned doing a second Pushkin Press week , the first book they had brought out in the last year was this one . I am a cover junkie at times and this remind me of those old Railway post in the UK from the same time , It turns out the post was a Belgian railways. The book is the second book from Volker Weidermann , He was literary editor at the German magazine Der spiegel .This is his first book to appear in English .

It’s summer up here by the sea , the gaily colored bathing huts glow in the sun. Stefan Zweig is sitting in a loggia on the fourth floor of a white house that faces onto the broad boulevard of Ostend, looking at the water. It’s one of his recurrent dreams, being here,writing,gazing out into the emptiness, into summer itself .Right above him, on the next floor up is his secretary, Lotte Altmann, who is also his lover, she’ll be coming down in a moment , bringing the typewriter, and he’ll dictate his buried candelabrum to her, returning repeatedly to the same sticking point , the place from which he cannot find a way forward. that’s how it’s been for some weeks now .

Perhaps his great friend Joseph Roth will have some advice .His friend ,whom he’s going to meet later in the bistro.

The two meet when Roth arrives in Ostend to talk .

The book focus on one summer just before the otbreak of world war Two. It focus on two writers , I wonder if the idea came from the photo at the end of the book that shows Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth sat together in 1936 in Ostend . The resort at this time was a hip hangout for the great writers of the day Arthur koestler , the other half of Irmgard Keun Joseph Roth girlfriend at the time . We see how both writers are coping with the struggles of the Nazis taking over Germany. The two writers are both at the top of their game but their lives are going different ways Roth is in a relationship that is destructive and as we all know after he only had three years after this . Zweig was working on his last work his only novel at the time . This shows a group of writers as ordinary people . But also maybe slowly waking to what was happening back home as their publishers where either going or changing .Rather like the book I read last year the Decision  about Thomas Mann at this time having to decide what way he was going to go, unlike him Zweig and Roth both Jewish writers were already doomed .

Nineteen thirty-six is a year of farewells and decisions for Stefan Zweig .His German publishing no longer publishes him, the German market is lost to him , along with Austria , his collection and his magnificent house – all of ir is now nothing but a wearying burden.Its not easy to jettison what one has built up over the years.An entire life.

The world is closing in and the Nazis are killing the Jewish writers world

This is a wonderfully craft novel about a time that has long gone a last summer before the darkness descended . Stefan Zweig is a household name in many was due to Pushkin Press . Roth is a writer I see growing every year since I started blogging Granta has been bringing his books out in very nice new additions. What Weidermann has done is weave a novel out of the bits he found from all those involved their letter ,diaries and interviews .The last chapter tell you what happened to the writer Roth sad decline, Zweig in Latin America but killing himself just six-year later Koestler was recovering from the Spanish civil war when he was there then went on to write his masterpiece Darkness at Noon . Keun never reach the heights ,  she was at before she meet Roth , she is another writer whose works have appear in English over the last ten year.This is a book that can be read in an evening as you settle into the art deco Ostend and behind the public face of these writers .

Have you read this book ?


12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Slightly Bookist
    Feb 17, 2017 @ 21:36:21

    This sounds really interesting, and the cover is gorgeous.


  2. Lisa Hill
    Feb 17, 2017 @ 21:43:53

    Oooh you are a temptation, Stu! I’ve just bought The Decision and this one too, and I am going to read them together for the next German Lit Month.


  3. JacquiWine
    Feb 18, 2017 @ 07:49:31

    I listened to an abridged version of this on Radio 4 and found it very poignant (especially in the light of what we now know about the years that followed).


  4. Tony
    Feb 18, 2017 @ 12:04:04

    Haven’t read any Zweig for a while, something I should rectify this year…


  5. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Feb 18, 2017 @ 17:25:19

    Great review Stu. I loved this book – really caught the atmosphere of the place and the period and the people, I thought!


  6. Claire 'Word by Word'
    Feb 18, 2017 @ 19:45:27

    Sounds intriguing and absolutely love the cover!


  7. Lisa Hill
    Feb 19, 2017 @ 12:40:24

    Here’s another one for Pushkin Press Fortnight, Stu! I read it in French but it’s also one of their translations:


  8. Max Cairnduff
    Feb 20, 2017 @ 12:43:54

    I did read this, there’s a review at mine. Like you I liked it, though I think there is an issue that it’s not actually a novel even though it reads like one – it’s a work of reportage or history but without footnotes or references so it’s not wholly clear where all the info comes from.

    Still, it’s an excellent work of popular history, and to be fair that’s pretty much the only kind of history I’d probably read since I’m not myself a historian.


  9. Trackback: Feb 2017 that was the month that was | Winstonsdad's Blog
  10. Trackback: Winstons Dozen my favourite books of 2017 | Winstonsdad's Blog
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February 2017


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