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La embriaguez de la metamorfosis

La embriaguez de la metamorfosis

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La embriaguez de la metamorfosis

valoraciones:
4/5 (28 valoraciones)
Longitud:
326 páginas
6 horas
Editorial:
Publicado:
Apr 16, 2020
ISBN:
9788417902629
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

"Las dos partes de la novela, cuya acción se desarrolla en el año 1926, guardan una estrecha re­lación, pero están claramente separadas en cuanto a los hechos y al ambiente. Así como al principio el núcleo está constituido por las experiencias vividas en el mundo brillante de una estación de verano suiza, en la segunda parte—su reverso—la atención se centra en la atmósfera opresiva de la época de postguerra y de una existencia pequeñoburguesa, que hace madurar el proyecto de un desfalco de grandes proporciones. Stefan Zweig demuestra de nuevo su arte para desvelar las motivaciones psicológicas de los actos y comportamientos humanos".
Walter Hinck.
"Fenomenal obra, me atrevería a afirmar que su mejor relato desde el punto de vista estructural y de tensión novelesca."
Toni Montesinos, La Razón
"Una de las novelas más sugerentes de Zweig, al romper con el romanticismo convencional de su época y dar paso a un desenlace de una rara modernidad."
Berta Vías Mahou, El País
"El lector experimenta, una vez leído el libro, una insaciable sed de más y el final se le antoja sin duda el comienzo de otra historia que por nada del mundo desearía perderse."
Luis Fernando Moreno Claros, ABC
"El libro es una muestra excelente de la capacidad de su autor para describir los sentimientos humanos con maestría."
Roberto Ruiz de Huydobro, Pérgola
"Zweig escribe una novela que puede devolver el gusto por la novela más clásica, si acaso se había cometido el error de olvidarla."
Pedro Antonio Urbina, Aceprensa
Editorial:
Publicado:
Apr 16, 2020
ISBN:
9788417902629
Formato:
Libro

Sobre el autor

Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) war ein österreichischer Schriftsteller. Der erklärte Pazifist hatte einen überaus markanten Schreibstil. Sein bekanntestes Werk ist die Schachnovelle, die nur wenige Monate vor seinem Tod erschien.


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La embriaguez de la metamorfosis - Stefan Zweig

STEFAN ZWEIG

LA EMBRIAGUEZ

DE LA METAMORFOSIS

NOVELA PÓSTUMA

TRADUCCIÓN DEL ALEMÁN

DE ADAN KOVACSICS

ACANTILADO

BARCELONA 2020

Las oficinas de correos rurales en Austria poco se distinguen unas de otras; quien ha visto una, las conoce todas. Equipadas o, mejor dicho, uniformadas en la misma época, la del emperador Francisco José, con el mismo mísero mobiliario proveniente de los mismos fondos, todas transmiten por doquier la misma sensación de tedio y de mal humor estatal, y hasta en las aldeas alpinas más recónditas del Tirol, allá bajo el aliento de los glaciares, conservan obstinadamente el inequívoco olor oficial, rancio y austriaco que es una mezcla de tabaco viejo de hebra y de polvo enmohecido en expedientes amontonados. La distribución del espacio es igual en todas partes: en una proporción prescrita con exactitud, un tabique de madera provisto de ventanillas divide el cuarto en un más acá y en un más allá, en un espacio accesible a los usuarios y en un ámbito oficial. El hecho de que el Estado muestre escaso interés por una permanencia prolongada de los ciudadanos en la sección accesible a todos queda de manifiesto por la falta de asientos y de cualquier tipo de comodidad. En la sala destinada al público suele haber sólo un pupitre enclenque, que se apoya temerosamente contra la pared, con un revestimiento de hule ennegrecido por innumerables borrones de tinta, si bien nadie recuerda haber visto en el tintero hundido en la madera nada que no sea una pasta espesa, podrida e inservible, y cuando una pluma se encuentra por casualidad en la acanaladura, siempre está gastada y raspea. Así como la ahorrativa hacienda estatal no concede importancia al confort, tampoco se interesa por la belleza: desde que la República retiró el retrato de Francisco José, a lo sumo pueden aspirar al rango de decoración artística del espacio los carteles que, desplegando sus colores chillones sobre la cal sucia de las paredes, invitan a exposiciones clausuradas hace tiempo, a la compra de números de la lotería y, en algunas oficinas olvidadizas, a firmar empréstitos de guerra. Con este ornamento barato y, a lo sumo, con la siempre incumplida exhortación a no fumar, acaba la generosidad del Estado en el espacio destinado al público.

La sala situada al otro lado de la barrera oficial impone más respeto. Allí, el estado despliega y amontona los símbolos evidentes de su poder y amplitud. En un rincón protegido se halla una caja de caudales de hierro, y las rejas de la ventana dan pie a suponer que, en efecto, el mueble a veces alberga importantes valores. En el mostrador brilla como pieza de máximo lujo un telégrafo Morse de latón bien lustrado, mientras que a su lado duerme, más humilde, el teléfono en su cuna de níquel negro. Sólo a estos dos aparatos se les concede cierto espacio de respeto y solaz por cuanto, conectados a hilos de alambre, unen la remota y minúscula aldea con los confines del imperio. Los otros utensilios del tráfico postal, en cambio, se ven obligados a apiñarse: la balanza para los paquetes y las sacas de la correspondencia; los libros, carpetas, cuadernos y registros; las cajas redondas y tintineantes de los portes; los platillos y los pesos; los lápices negros, azules, rojos y violetas; los pasadores y las grapas; las cuerdas; el lacre; la esponja y la salvadera; la goma arábiga; el cuchillo; las tijeras y la plegadera, o sea, los múltiples instrumentos del servicio postal, se apelotonan sobre la superficie del escritorio, de apenas una vara de profundidad, al tiempo que en los numerosos cajones y armarios se apila una cantidad inconcebible de otros papeles y formularios. No obstante, el aparente derroche de este despliegue es, de hecho, un espejismo, pues el Estado registra en secreto y con rigor implacable cada uno de estos utensilios baratos. El inexorable erario pide a sus empleados cuentas de cada pieza utilizada o gastada, sea un lápiz usado o un sello roto, un papel secante desflecado o el jabón que se ha esmerado en la palangana de lata, la bombilla que alumbra la oficina pública o la llave de hierro que la cierra. Junto a la estufa de hierro cuelga, mecanografiado y confirmado por sello oficial y firma ilegible, un extenso inventario que registra con rigurosidad aritmética hasta la presencia de los objetos más insignificantes y carentes de valor en la sucursal de correos correspondiente. Ningún objeto no incluido en esta lista puede alojarse en la oficina y, por otra parte, toda pieza registrada debe estar presente y disponible. Es la voluntad de la administración, del orden y del imperativo legal.

En rigor, la lista mecanografiada de objetos debería incluir también a la persona que cada mañana, a las ocho, sube la ventanilla y pone en movimiento los utensilios hasta entonces inertes, que abre las sacas de la correspondencia, sella las cartas, paga las transferencias, escribe los recibos, pesa los paquetes, emborrona los papeles con extraños y secretos signos utilizando lápices rojos, azules y violetas, libera el auricular del teléfono y pone en marcha la bobina del aparato Morse. Sin embargo, esta persona, denominada ayudante o administrador de correos por el público, no está registrada en la lista de cartón. Su nombre queda apuntado en otra hoja oficial, sita en otro cajón, en otro departamento de la dirección de correos, pero es igualmente tenido en cuenta, revisado y controlado.

En esta oficina santificada por el águila estatal nunca se produce cambio visible. La ley eterna del ascenso y del ocaso se desintegra al chocar con la barrera del Estado; mientras fuera, alrededor del edificio, florecen y se deshojan los árboles, crecen los niños y mueren los ancianos, se desmoronan y resurgen con otras formas las casas, la administración demuestra su poder deliberadamente trascendental mediante una inmovilidad atemporal. Pues de cada objeto que se gasta o desaparece, que se altera o se desintegra dentro de este ámbito, se solicita un espécimen idéntico a la autoridad superior, que lo entrega y demuestra así la superioridad del Estado sobre la transitoriedad del resto del mundo. El contenido pasa, pero la forma se mantiene incólume. Un calendario cuelga de la pared. Cada día le arrancan una hoja; son siete a la semana, treinta al mes. Cuando el calendario se ha vuelto delgado y obsoleto el día 31 de diciembre, se pide uno nuevo, del mismo formato y con la misma impresión: el año ha cambiado, el calendario sigue siendo el mismo. Sobre la mesa se halla un libro de caja con sus columnas. Cuando la página de la izquierda se llena y se suman las cifras, la cantidad resultante se pasa a la página derecha, y así de hoja en hoja. Cuando la última página está escrita y el libro terminado, se empieza otro del mismo tipo y del mismo formato, imposible de distinguir del anterior. Lo que desaparece vuelve a estar allí al día siguiente, uniforme como el servicio, de tal modo que sobre el mismo tablero de madera se encuentran, invariables, los mismos objetos, las hojas, lápices, pasadores y formularios, todos uniformes, siempre renovados y siempre los mismos. Nada desaparece en ese espacio estatal, nada se agrega, la misma vida o, más bien, la misma muerte continua reina allí sin florecer ni marchitarse. Los objetos de ese amplio abanico sólo difieren en el ritmo del desgaste y de la renovación, pero no en su destino. Un lápiz dura una semana, se gasta y acaba siendo sustituido por uno igual. Un libro postal dura un mes; una bombilla, tres meses; un calendario, un año. A la silla de asiento de paja se le asignan tres años antes de ser renovada, a la persona que se pasa la vida sentada en la silla, entre treinta y treinta y cinco años de servicio, transcurridos los cuales otra persona es instalada en dicho asiento. Éste sigue siendo el mismo.

En la oficina de Klein-Reifling, una insignificante aldea situada no lejos de Krems, a unas dos horas en tren desde Viena, este equipamiento intercambiable llamado «funcionario» pertenece en el año 1926 al sexo femenino y recibe por parte de la administración el título de ayudante de correos, por cuanto la estafeta en cuestión se incluye entre las categorías inferiores. A través de la ventanilla no se divisa mucho más que un perfil de muchacha simpática y discreta, de labios un tanto delgados, mejillas un tanto pálidas y manchas un tanto grises bajo los ojos; al atardecer, cuando debe encender la iluminación eléctrica que resalta los contrastes, una mirada precisa reconoce ligeras arrugas y pliegues en la frente y las sienes. No obstante, junto con las malvas puestas en la ventana y el espléndido saúco que colocó en la palangana de lata, esta muchacha representa el objeto más refrescante, con mucho, de los utensilios postales de Klein-Reifling y parece disponible para el servicio público durante al menos veinticinco años más. La mano femenina de dedos pálidos subirá y bajará la misma ventanilla enclenque miles y miles de veces. Lanzará cientos de miles o hasta millones de cartas con el mismo gesto rectangular sobre el pupitre para su sellado, y cientos de miles o hasta millones de veces estampará con el mismo ruido fuerte, breve y seco el timbre sobre los sellos. La articulación experta probablemente funcionará cada vez mejor, de forma cada vez más mecánica, más inconsciente, más liberada del cuerpo vigilante. Los cientos de miles de cartas serán cartas siempre diferentes, pero cartas al fin y al cabo. Los sellos serán sellos diferentes, pero sellos al fin y al cabo. Los días serán diferentes, pero cada día transcurrirá entre las 8 y las 12 de la mañana y las 2 y las 6 de la tarde, y el servicio será igual, siempre igual, en todos los años de crecimiento y marchitamiento.

La ayudante de correos de pelo rubio ceniza, instalada detrás de su ventanilla en esa hora silenciosa de una mañana de verano, tal vez medita sobre estas perspectivas futuras o quizá sueña despierta. Sea como fuere, sus manos desocupadas han descendido de la mesa de trabajo al regazo y allí descansan juntas, delgadas, pálidas y cansadas. Poco trabajo debe de tener la oficina de correos de Klein-Reifling en una mañana de julio de estas características, de un azul abrasador, de quietud ardiente; el servicio matutino ha concluido, el cartero Hinterfellner, un jorobado aficionado a masticar tabaco, repartió ya hace rato las cartas; los paquetes y muestras de la fábrica no llegarán para ser enviados antes del atardecer, y la gente del campo no tiene ni ganas ni tiempo para escribir. Los campesinos, protegidos por unos sombreros de paja de un metro de ancho, rastrillan los viñedos allá lejos; los niños, de vacaciones, se recrean con los pies descalzos en el arroyo, y el pavimento de piedras abombadas se encuentra vacío ante la puerta bajo el calor sofocante y broncíneo del cercano mediodía. A esta hora es bueno estar en casa y soñar a gusto. A la sombra artificial de las celosías bajadas, los papeles y formularios duermen en sus cajones y estantes, mientras el metal de los aparatos lanza destellos perezosos y apagados en la dorada penumbra. El silencio yace tal un polvo grueso y áureo sobre los objetos, y sólo se oye entre las ventanas cerradas una música estival liliputiense, la de los violines agudos de los mosquitos y del violoncelo marrón de un abejorro. Lo único que se mueve sin cesar en ese espacio fresco es el reloj de pared con marco de madera colocado entre las ventanas. A cada segundo absorbe una gota de tiempo con un ligerísimo trago, pero el ruido fino y monótono adormece en vez de espabilar. Así las cosas, la ayudante de correos permanece sentada, en un estado de parálisis despierta y agradable, rodeada de su pequeño mundo dormido. De hecho, quería hacer un trabajo manual; se nota por la aguja y las tijeras que tiene preparadas, pero el bordado ha caído arrugado al suelo, y ella no tiene ni la fuerza ni la voluntad necesarias para levantarlo. Blanda y casi jadeante se reclina en la silla, y con los ojos cerrados se deja llevar por la sensación rara y maravillosa del ocio justificado.

De pronto: ¡tac! Se sobresalta. Otra vez, más fuerte, más metálico, más impaciente: tac, tac, tac. El Morse da martillazos rebeldes, el mecanismo del reloj rechina: un telegrama—raro huésped en Klein-Reifling—pretende ser recibido con el debido respeto. La ayudante de correos se sacude de encima esa sensación de pereza y modorra, se precipita al mostrador y conecta la tira de papel. Pero no bien ha descifrado las primeras palabras que van apareciendo, se pone de mil colores. Pues por primera vez desde que trabaja allí ve su propio nombre en una hoja telegráfica. Lee una, dos, tres veces el telegrama ya escrito por el martilleo del aparato, sin entender el sentido. ¿Cómo? ¿Qué? ¿Quién le manda un telegrama desde Pontresina? «Christine Hoflehner, Klein-Reifling, Austria, sinceramente bienvenida, te esperamos cualquier momento, cualquier día, sólo anuncia llegada previamente telégrafo. Cordialmente ClaireAnthony». Ella piensa: ¿quién será este Anthony que la espera? ¿Se habrá permitido algún colega una broma inocente? Pero entonces recuerda que su madre le contó hace semanas que la tía vendría este verano a Europa y la tía se llama, en efecto, Klara. Y Anthony debe de ser el nombre de su marido, a quien la madre siempre llama Anton. Sí, y ahora afina la memoria; hace unos días ella misma llevó a su madre una carta remitida en Cherburgo, y la madre no quiso soltar prenda y no reveló ni una palabra de su contenido. Pero el telegrama estaba dirigido a ella. ¿Debía ir ella a Pontresina, a ver a la tía? Nunca se habló de tal posibilidad. Mira una y otra vez la tira aún sin pegar, el primer telegrama que ha recibido personalmente en la oficina de correos, lee y relee, desconcertada, curiosa, incrédula y confusa el extraño despacho. No, es imposible esperar hasta mediodía. Debe inquirir enseguida el significado de todo ello de su madre. En un arranque coge la llave, cierra la oficina y se va corriendo a su casa. En la emoción, olvida desconectar la palanca del telégrafo. Así pues, el martillo de latón, enfurecido por tanto desdén, sigue traqueteando en el espacio desocupado, golpeando una y otra vez la tira vacía.

La velocidad de la chispa eléctrica resulta siempre inconcebible, porque su rapidez supera la de nuestros pensamientos. Pues esas pocas palabras, que cayeron como un relámpago blanco y silencioso en el ambiente lóbrego y viciado de una oficina pública austriaca, fueron escritas escasos minutos antes a tres países de distancia, a la sombra fresca y azulada de los glaciares, bajo el cielo de Engadina puro como la genciana, y la tinta aún no se había secado en el formulario de envío cuando su sentido y su llamada ya hacían impacto en un corazón sorprendido.

Había ocurrido lo siguiente: Anthony van Boolen, de nacionalidad holandesa, pero desde hacía muchos años residente en el sur de Estados Unidos, donde se dedicaba al comercio de algodón, un hombre jovial, flemático y en el fondo sumamente insignificante, acababa de terminar su desayuno en la terraza—toda luz y cristal—del Hotel Palace. Ahora llegaba la culminación nicótica del breakfast, el bulboso habano de color ocre oscuro, traído expresamente de la plantación en una lata hermética. Con el fin de disfrutar de la primera chupada, la más sabrosa, con la comodidad propia de un fumador experto, el caballero, un tanto obeso, acomodó las piernas sobre un sillón de mimbre instalado enfrente, desplegó la gigantesca vela cuadrada de papel del New York Herald y zarpó en él por el inconmensurable mar de letras que son las cotizaciones y los comentarios bursátiles. Mientras, su esposa Claire, otrora denominada simplemente Klara, se sentaba en diagonal frente a él a la mesa y desgajaba aburrida su pomelo matutino. Conocía, por muchos años de experiencia, la absoluta inutilidad de cualquier intento de romper mediante la conversación el muro de papel de cada mañana. Por eso dio la bienvenida al simpático paje de gorra parda y mejillas rojas como una manzana, que se dirigió a ella con el correo matutino: la bandeja traía una única carta. Sea como fuere, su contenido pareció interesarle sobremanera porque, sin dejarse influir por la experiencia acumulada, trató de interrumpir la lectura de su marido:

—Sólo un momento, Anthony—pidió. El periódico no se inmutó—. No quiero molestarte, Anthony, pero escúchame sólo un segundo, que corre prisa. Mary—dijo, pronunciando sin querer el nombre en inglés—, Mary acaba de cancelar su visita. No puede venir, dice, por mucho que quiera. Anda mal, muy mal del corazón, y el médico opina que no aguantará los dos mil metros de altura. O sea, que es imposible. Pero si estamos de acuerdo, dice, nos enviará en su lugar a Christine, ya sabes, la menor, la rubia, para que pase dos semanas con nosotros. Una vez, antes de la guerra, recibiste una foto de ella. Si bien tiene un empleo en un post-office, nunca se ha tomado unas verdaderas vacaciones; por eso, si las solicita, se las concederán enseguida, y entonces estaría encantada, después de tantos años, de «ofrecer sus respetos a ti, querida Klara, y al estimado Anthony», etcétera, etcétera.

El periódico no se inmutó. Claire, impaciente, insistió:

—A ver, ¿qué te parece? ¿La invitamos?... Seguro que a la pobre cría no le hará daño beber unas cucharadas de aire fresco, y, al fin y al cabo, es lo que toca. Una vez que estoy en Europa, debería conocer a la hija de mi hermana, que ya no mantenemos relación alguna. ¿Tienes algo en contra de que la haga venir?

El periódico crujió un poco. Asomó, azul y redondo, un anillo de humo del habano por encima del borde blanco, seguido de una voz indiferente y parsimoniosa:

Not at all. Why should I?

Con esta lacónica respuesta concluía la conversación y empezaba un destino. Una relación se restablecía después de varias décadas, porque, a despecho del apellido de sonido casi aristocrático cuyo «van» no era más que una simple preposición holandesa y a pesar de la conversación mantenida en inglés por el matrimonio, Claire van Boolen era ni más ni menos que la hermana de Marie Hoflehner y, lógicamente, la tía de la ayudante de correos de Klein-Reifling. El hecho de que abandonara Austria hacía más de un cuarto de siglo se debía a una historia oscura que ella ya apenas recordaba—pues la memoria gusta de complacernos—y sobre la cual la hermana nunca informó con claridad a sus hijas. En su día, sin embargo, el asunto levantó una polvareda enorme, y habría tenido consecuencias aún mayores si unos hombres listos y hábiles no hubieran intervenido a tiempo para sustraer una buena presa a la curiosidad general. En aquella época, Claire van Boolen era sencillamente la señorita Klara en un distinguido salón de moda sito en el Kohlmarkt vienés: una simple maniquí. Pero viva y perspicaz como era, causó una impresión devastadora en un industrial maderero ya mayor que acompañaba a su esposa para la prueba de un vestido. Con todo el ímpetu desesperado del pánico a la inminente vejez, el consejero de comercio, hombre rico y todavía bastante bien conservado, se enamoró de la rubia metidita en carnes y al mismo tiempo divertida, y una generosidad inusitada incluso en aquellos círculos aceleró el cortejo. La maniquí de diecinueve años no tardó en desfilar en un coche de punto mostrando, para indignación de su respetable familia, bellísimos vestidos y pieles que hasta el momento sólo había podido presentar ante el espejo a una clientela criticona y, en general, exigente. Cuanto más elegante era tanto más gustaba al maduro bienhechor, y cuanto más gustaba al consejero de comercio, hecho un lío por su inesperada felicidad amorosa, tanto más derrochaba el hombre en vestir y acicalar a la joven. Al cabo de pocas semanas lo había mareado hasta tal punto que un abogado empezó a preparar con sumo sigilo los documentos necesarios para el divorcio, y ella estaba en camino de convertirse en una de las mujeres más ricas de Viena, cuando la esposa, advertida por unas cartas anónimas, irrumpió con briosa estupidez. Enrabietada por su justificado encono, al verse desencabestrada de golpe como un caballo cojo, después de treinta años de matrimonio carente de problemas, compró un revólver y asaltó a la desigual pareja durante un encuentro amoroso en una casa de citas recién estrenada. Sin preámbulos, enloquecida por la furia, descerrajó dos tiros a la perturbadora de la felicidad conyugal: uno de ellos no dio en el blanco y el otro acertó en el brazo. La lesión resultó ser leve, pero los típicos efectos secundarios fueron sumamente embarazosos: vecinos que acuden, llamadas de socorro a través de los cristales rotos, puertas reventadas, desmayos y escenas, médicos, policía, instrucción del sumario y la amenaza, inevitable en apariencia, de la vista de la causa, temida con igual intensidad por todos los afectados. Por fortuna, los ricos cuentan no sólo en Viena, sino en todas partes, con abogados apañados, expertos en tapar asuntos molestos, y su experimentado maestro, el consejero de justicia Karplus, enseguida quitó hierro al tema. Con cortesía, citó a Klara a su despacho. Ella apareció sumamente elegante, provista de una venda muy coqueta, y leyó con curiosidad el contrato que la obligaba a viajar, antes de ser citada como testigo, a Estados Unidos, donde recibiría, además de una indemnización única por daños y perjuicios, una determinada suma de dinero cada primero de mes en el despacho de un lawyer. Klara, que desde luego no se moría por volver a ejercer de maniquí en Viena tras el escándalo y, por otra parte, había sido expulsada de casa por su familia, leyó sin muestra alguna de indignación los cuatro folios del contrato, calculó rauda la suma total, la consideró asombrosamente elevada y planteó al buen tuntún una exigencia adicional de mil florines. Le fueron concedidos, de modo que firmó el contrato con una fugaz sonrisa, cruzó el gran charco y no se arrepintió de su decisión. Durante la travesía ya se le presentaron varias ofertas matrimoniales y pronto se produjo una decisiva: conoció en la pensión de Nueva York a su Van Boolen, en aquella época un insignificante comisionista de una empresa exportadora holandesa que, sin embargo, tomó rápidamente la decisión de independizarse en el sur con el pequeño capital aportado por ella, cuyo origen romántico el hombre ni siquiera intuía. Al cabo de tres años tenían dos hijos, al cabo de cinco, una casa, al cabo de diez, una cuantiosa fortuna que la guerra, en lugar de aplastar ferozmente como ocurría en Europa, multiplicaba con creces en los demás continentes. Los dos hijos, ya adultos y duchos en el negocio, participaban en la agencia paterna, de tal modo que al cabo de muchos años los padres, ya mayores, pudieron permitirse sin preocuparse el lujo de un viaje largo y cómodo a Europa. Y, aunque parezca extraño, no bien emergieron de la niebla las orillas llanas de Cherburgo, Claire vivió de pronto, en un brevísimo instante, un vuelco total de su sentimiento patrio. A pesar de sentirse norteamericana desde hacía tiempo, percibió, por el mero hecho de que ese trozo de tierra era Europa, una inesperada sensación de nostalgia por su propia juventud: soñó por la noche con las camitas enrejadas en que ella y su hermana durmieran una al lado de otra, recordó miles de detalles, y de pronto sintió vergüenza de no haber escrito durante años a su hermana enviudada y empobrecida. Este pensamiento no le dio tregua: desde el mismo desembarcadero envió la carta que contenía un billete de cien dólares y la invitación.

Ahora que había que trasladar la invitación a la hija, la señora Van Boolen sólo tuvo que hacer una señal, y el mozo de librea de color marrón acudió raudo como un dardo, le trajo, oída la solicitud, un formulario de telegrama y llevó, con el gorro pegado a las orejas, la hoja rellenada a la oficina de correos. Minutos más tarde, los signos ascendían desde el traqueteante aparato Morse al techo, se introducían en la madeja oscilante de hilos de cobre, y el mensaje recorría en un santiamén mil kilómetros de alambre con una única descarga radioeléctrica, más rápida que los rechinantes ferrocarriles e indeciblemente más rápida que los automóviles, por mucho polvo que levanten. Un instante y ya había superado la frontera, otro instante y atravesaba Vorarlberg con sus miles de cumbres, el encantador Liechtenstein y el Tirol lleno de valles, y la palabra transformada como por arte de magia se precipitaba entonces desde las alturas glaciales a pleno valle del Danubio, a un transformador situado en Linz. Allí descansaba unos segundos y luego, más rápido de lo que puede pronunciarse la palabra «rápido», el mensaje descendía desde el conmutador instalado en el techo de Klein-Reifling hasta el sorprendido aparato receptor y desde allí se dirigía a un corazón asombrado, confuso y ardiente de curiosidad.

Christine dobla la esquina, sube una escalera oscura que emite toda suerte de crujidos y llega a casa, una buhardilla compartida, provista de diminutos ventanucos, en lo alto de una estrecha casa campesina. Un gablete ancho y avanzado que sirve para recoger la nieve en invierno hurta a la planta de arriba cualquier filamento de sol durante el día; sólo al atardecer se desliza a veces un rayo delgado y ya inerme hasta los geranios que adornan el alféizar. Por eso, en aquel cuarto sombrío siempre huele a viciado y pantanoso, a la madera podrida de la cumbrera y a sábanas mohosas; olores antiquísimos impregnan como hongos la madera. En tiempos normales, el cuarto seguramente sólo servía de granero, pero la postguerra, con su terrible escasez de viviendas, impuso la modestia y la necesidad de mostrar gratitud por el simple hecho de poder colocar dos camas, una mesa y un armario viejo en algún sitio entre cuatro paredes. Hasta el sillón de cuero, una herencia, ocupaba demasiado espacio y por un módico precio pasó a manos de un chamarilero, cosa que más tarde demostró ser un error, por cuanto, cada vez que a la anciana señora Hoflehner le flaquean los pies hinchados e hidrópicos, no le queda más remedio que acomodarse en la cama para descansar.

La mujer agotada y prematuramente envejecida debe a los dos años de servicio en el sótano de un hospital de guerra, al que estaba asignada como conserje (pues con algo había que ganarse la vida), esas piernas enfermas, infladas, convertidas en masas deformes, voluminosas, recorridas por unas venas de peligroso color azul bajo las vendas de franela. Desde entonces, su andar sólo consiste en arrastrarse jadeando y a duras penas, y, cada vez que se esfuerza o se emociona, la corpulenta señora debe llevarse la mano al corazón. No llegará a vieja, y lo sabe. Es por tanto una suerte que el cuñado, un consejero áulico, encontrara a tiempo un puesto de ayudante de correos para Christine en medio del caos posterior a la revolución, un cargo miserablemente pagado en un pueblucho remoto. Sea como fuere: significaba un puñado de seguridad, unas cuantas tejas sobre la cabeza, un trozo de espacio para respirar, apenas suficiente para vivir y, más que nada, una forma de habituarse al aún más estrecho ataúd.

Siempre huele a vinagre y a humedad, a enfermedad y a persona que guarda cama en aquel angosto rectángulo, y desde la minúscula cocina de al lado penetran por la puerta mal cerrada, como un velo que arde lentamente, el olor soso y el vapor de las comidas recalentadas. El primer movimiento, automático, de Christine al entrar en la habitación consiste en abrir la ventana de un tirón. La anciana, tumbada en la cama, se despierta al oír el rechinido y suspira. No puede evitarlo, pues suspira siempre, a cada gesto, así como un armario roto cruje antes incluso de tocarlo, simplemente porque alguien se le acerca: es el miedo previo y consciente del cuerpo reumático al dolor provocado por cada movimiento. Así pues, primero suspira y luego, después del inevitable gemido, pregunta mientras se levanta tambaleante:

—¿Qué pasa?

La noción aún obnubilada sabe, sin embargo, que todavía no es mediodía, que no es la hora de comer. Algo especial debe de haber ocurrido. En ese momento, la hija le entrega el telegrama.

La mano apergaminada tantea en la mesa de noche con torpeza, pues cada movimiento duele, en busca de las gafas, y tarda en encontrarlas bajo los trastos de la farmacia y en ponerlas ante los ojos. Pero no bien

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Lo que piensa la gente sobre La embriaguez de la metamorfosis

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  • (4/5)
    In this historical fiction set in 1926, we are introduced to Christine Hoflehner, a young postal clerk in the Austrian village of Klein-Reifling. The war has taken her father, her brother, her best prospects for marriage, and her laughter. She lives in a damp, cold attic with her rheumatic mother. The gloom of her days is broken by a telegram from her aunt Claire, gone to America years before. Claire is now rich, and she invites her niece to join her at an elegant resort in Switzerland. Clutching her straw suitcase, Christine creeps into the grand hotel, and promptly finds herself transformed physically--by hairdressers and Claire's wardrobe--and in the shift of class expectation, by the wand of chance and misunderstanding. Her invitation into high society was a happy coincidence of her own emergence as an attractive young woman. She dances, takes rides in roadsters, and is courted by gentlemen. Just as life seems to pull her into its fullness, a jealous acquaintance discovers the pretense. Fearing exposure of her own long-dead secrets, Claire sends Christine and her straw suitcase, packing. Back in the village, Christine's prospects seem even more dismal for the certainty she has of what she has missed. But this is just the beginning. The novel moves out of the grand hotel, to the sleepy village, and then toward a more complex counterpoint of social spheres. Christine visits her sister Nelly's family in Vienna. Her sister's chubby mercantile husband introduces her to Ferdinand, his comrade from the war who spent years in a Siberian prison camp, only to return to a country that no longer had any use for him. His family favors evaporated in the hyperinflation, and his instant poverty is insured by injuries which specifically disable him from his pursuit of architecture. When Ferdinand pours out the bitterness of his heart, Christine recognizes a kindred spirit. Yet, their relations never become obvious. There is no "happily" or even "love", but it is by no means incomplete. Their lives are deeply described and rooted in a historical context. We come to appreciate what war does to people, to a whole generation. The two souls cling to each other, but this does not make them less immune to the withered circumstances in which they live. At the end, the couple contemplate suicide, and then, almost unintentionally, conspire to commit a serious felonious theft. In the insightful Afterword, William Deresiewicz notes: "The narrative terminates at the conclusion of a scene, and on a thematically significant word." That word, pregnant with Joycean revenance in the mouth of a woman, is "Yes". The Nazis destroyed the European civilization achieved in the Austro-Hungarian humanist movement. Herr Zweig provides a clear window on the golden age of Viennese cafe society at the turn of the century. The author received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1915 and was arguably the most prolific, popular and widely-known author of his day. He seems to have read widely and wrote as if on a mission to preserve civilization as doom descended upon it. Zweig escaped the camps but his death in 1942 in Brazil was a double-suicide with his wife, and is portended in this novel, published in Germany as "Rausch der Verwandlung" [Intoxication of Transformation] after his death.
  • (3/5)
    Frankly I was disappointed with Zweig's last, unfinished novel as I had read a number of glowing reviews of it and most of the NYRB books I have read have been highly satisfying. This one not so much.Zweig paints a compelling picture of a lost generation in post-WWI Austria contrasted with the luxurious life enjoyed by the wealthy in a glamourous Swiss resort. However, the main characters, Christl and her suitor Ferdinand, are self-pitying and hapless. I don't know what Zweig had in store for them, but I don't really care.My Kindle version did not have the Afterword mentioned in some of the reviews.I own one other book by Zweig, Balzac: A Biography which I will give a chance, but it will have to be much more engaging than this one for me to look for any more of his work.
  • (3/5)
    Zweig's novel starts off quite well, with a gripping portrayal of the shame and humiliation that come with being poor. The reader really gets to like his character and then like her less and less as the book goes on. About two-thirds of the way through the book the plot seems to run out of gas, and the ending was rather disappointing.
  • (3/5)
    This is the story about a young girl whose family has been ruined by the privations of the First World War. Her brother marched off to war and died. Her father’s business, taxidermy, disappeared in the war years and the loss of his son drove him to despair and ultimately death.Christine, the main character, was a teenager when the war started and after the war she ends up in a remote village working in the post office and looking after her aging mother. She is a dedicated worker and, although she knows her life is hard and that she has not felt happy since her brother left for the war, she does not object about her lifestyle.A long estranged aunt, who left for the United States long before war broke out, makes contact and Christine is dispatched to meet her aunt in Switzerland where the aunt is holidaying with her wealthy husband.Christine get a taste of the high life and this unsettles her normal acceptance of her lot back at the remote village.Needless to say the real drama of the book is concerned with how she settles back into what was her life before the holiday with the aunt.
  • (4/5)
    The title character is Christine Hoflehner, postal clerk in the Austrian village of Klein-Reifling in 1926 postwar Austria. She shares a damp and humid attic room with her sickly mother. Her youth and happiness has been stolen in the war, along with her father and brother. Suddenly a telegram from her Aunt Claire arrives. Years ago Claire and her husband went to America and become quite wealthy. They are now vacationing in Switzerland and invite Christine to join them. Christine discovers a new and exotic life filled with pleasure and wealth. She's dressed in beautiful clothes and receives attention from attractive and wealthy men. Then suddenly it's over. Aunt Claire fears the discovery of her own secrets and sends Christine back to her miserable life in the village. Now her life there seems intolerable and her anger and bitterness is palpable. Eventually she meets Ferdinand, another miserable war survivor who spent six years in a Siberian labor camp. In Ferdinand she's found her soul mate of misery. Their meeting and their developing relationship takes us through the second half of the book.

    This is an beautifully written novel about what it's like to live without hope, and what happens when someone who has nothing is given a chance to see what the good life is like, and then have it taken away from them. It's an absorbing story that also captures the bleakness of life in Austria between the wars. I had some trouble getting into it in the beginning but I'm glad I stuck with it. Just when you think you have a handle on what Christine will do, the novel stops abruptly, but ultimately satisfying, at a place that almost leads you to believe there will be another part to the story.

    The book is written in two parts, each totally different from the other. I understand Zweig wrote The Post-Office Girl in the early 1930s, working on it during years that Hitler rose to power. He appears to have considered the book finished, and yet he left it untitled. It was not published in Germany until 1982 and then translated into English in 2008. Zweig committed suicide in a pact with his second wife in Brazil in 1942.
  • (5/5)
    ”The war has in fact ended, but poverty has not. It only ducked beneath the barrage of ordinances, crawled foxily behind the paper ramparts of war loans and banknotes with their ink still wet. Now it’s creeping back out, hollow-eyed, broad muzzled, hungry, and bold, eating what’s left in the gutters of the war. An entire winter of denominations and zeroes snows down from the sky, hundreds of thousands, millions, but every flake, every thousand melts in your hand. Money dissolves while you’re sleeping, it flies away while you’re changing your shoes (coming apart, with wooden heels) to run to the market for a second time; you never stop moving, but you’re always late. Life becomes mathematics, addition, multiplication, a mad whirl of figures and numbers, a vortex that snatches the last of your possessions into its black insatiable vacuum: your mother’s gold hair clasp off your neck, her wedding ring off her finger, the damask cloth off the table. But no matter how much you toss in, it’s no use, you can’t plug the black hellish hole, it does no good to stay up late knitting wool sweaters and rent all your rooms out and use the kitchen as a bedroom, doubling up with someone else.”Stefan Zweig was a master at being able to make you feel what abject poverty really felt like. His descriptions of it literally tear your heart out. Set after WWI in the 1920s, Austria is a particularly harrowing place to be. The eponymous post office girl, Christine Hoflehner, is a civil servant who maintains the office in the inconsequential village of Klein-Reifling, two hours outside Vienna. Her meager salary allows her and her very ill mother to maintain a tiny attic space in the village. But she has an aunt who married a wealthy American and has extended an invitation to Christine to spend two weeks with them at a posh Swiss resort so Christine goes. Her aunt is at once cognizant of the fact that her niece has neither the clothes nor the bearing to be accepted by the clientele as ‘one of them’ so she takes her shopping and Christine is transformed. And Zweig switches gears and as deftly as he described poverty he now describes the world of the very wealthy ‘where unspoken wishes are granted. How could anyone be anything but happy here?’ But something happens. Someone she thought had become a friend has been inquiring into her background and apparently the jig is up. Christine is shocked when her aunt decides to check out of the hotel abruptly and go on to another posh spot and Christine is not invited along so she must return to her former life.That is when she meets Ferdinand, a man whose experiences in captivity in Russia and his return to the very challenging employment opportunities in Austria have left him bitter and desperate. And Christine realizes that she is complete agreement with this sorry soul. Things are as bad as she thought they were. They hatch a scheme after a few meetings and the story ends on a sour note.This may be the most depressing book I’ve ever read. But Zweig’s ability to make me feel extreme sadness in one moment and exhilaration the next is an ability not many authors have. And his command of language makes him an instant favorite with me. Just an astounding read and very highly recommended.
  • (4/5)
    This is a page-turning story about capitalism, post-war generation, and poverty. It talks about how money rules your life. It is about the class struggle. Very nice read, i enjoyed it. And to think it was written in the 1930's and still speaks to our times!

    Actually, I have known someone like Franz: a macho, controlling, whiny, poor, miserable victim of his society. I have to say that I didn't like the characters, I did sympathize with them, but I couldn't relate to their personalities, only to their circumstances. There are some wonderful quotes in this book, I am very glad I have read this one, and am looking forward to reading more Zweig. The ending is satisfying.
  • (3/5)
    So a lot more people liked The Post Office Girl than I did. One of my crew read some of it in German, and complained about the translation and especially the title. For those of you interested, it's a novel that takes place after World War I in Austria. The title character, Crystl, is leading a grim life in a safe job. She has lost her brother in the war, her father is dead, and she and her mother have devolved to a less than genteel poverty after a more comfortable life before the war.Into this joyless life, she receives an invitation from her aunt, who has been living in the U.S., to join her and her husband at their vacation hotel. Although Crystl feels ashamed and totally out of place when she arrives, her aunt immediately takes her in hand and does the fairy godmother makeover. Crystl is accepted into the social whirl and giddily participates, until her low-class status is revealed and she is forced to return home.The last third of the story details how she is consumed with rage, how she meets a man who feels similarly wronged by his treatment after the war, and how their relationship re-emphasizes their feelings of despair. They then plan a bold escape - of sorts.I found it terribly grim, but also relevant to today, reflecting on the gap between the 1% and the rest of the country, the ways in which veterans are not treated adequately for their traumas, and the ways in which poverty is still an issue in this country. Read it at your own risk.
  • (5/5)
    ‘She has begun to find out who she is, and, having discovered this new world, to discover herself.’Christine Hoflehner is the post office girl of the title, working in a village branch in Klein-Reifling, Austria, in the years after World War One. Her days are identical, each spent working away at the post office, just earning enough to make ends meet, and then returning to the small home she shares with her ailing mother. There is the constant awareness of most things being ‘too expensive’, of having to scrimp and save to survive.Then one day an unexpected telegram arrives from Christine’s American aunt, a wealthy woman, inviting her to stay with her and her husband at a resort in the Swiss Alps. Not having had a break, let alone a holiday in years, after initial fear and apprehension Christine accepts the initiation. Traveling to meet them she is painfully aware and self-conscious as to her appearance, but as the journey goes on she becomes aware of the sights outside the train carriage window, and it dawns on her, with joy and surprise, that there is a whole world which she has never seen.‘Indifferent and without desires before, now she’s beginning to realize what she’s been missing….This is her first glimpse of the unimaginable majesty of the Alps, and she sways with surprise…if not for the accident of this journey, she herself would have died, rotted away, and turned to dust with no inkling of their glory.’Her stay at the resort with her aunt and uncle will irrevocably alter her life. She discovers a world of luxury, freedom and pleasure, surrounded by pretty clothes, beautiful interiors, exciting people, and she is intoxicated and totally swept away by it all. There are none of her usual worries about lack of money, of boredom and routine; everything is new and exciting, the world is there to be discovered, people to meet and places to see. She undergoes such a change in all aspects of her life; it is like a real Cinderella story, from rags to riches.On waking on her first morning in the hotel, ‘she looks and around and remembers everything – vacation, holiday, freedom, Switzerland, her aunt, her uncle, the magnificent hotel! No worries, no responsibilities, no work, no time, no alarm clock! No stove, no one waiting, no pressure from anyone: the terrible mill of hardship that’s been crushing her life for ten years has ground to a halt for the first time….She feels self-confident and happy as never before.’Suddenly having to return to her former life, to her job at the post office, to wear her old clothes again, to return to the village, having tasted this alternative, leaves Christine utterly devastated and ashamed. Looking at her old clothes in the hotel wardrobe, the language conveys how disgusted and black she feels about them and the life they remind her of; ‘the hated blouse she came in, dangling there as white and ghastly as a hanged man.’Back in Klein-Reifling, ‘everything hideous, narrow, disagreeable about this little world she’s been pushed back into digs in its barbs until she can’t even feel her own pain.’ A chance meeting with an old friend of her brother-in-law in Vienna one Sunday, someone with whom she feels a common bond, will shape her life going forward.What a moving, emotional novel that sees the human spirit briefly reach such happiness and then return to such deep despair, driven by a glimpse of what wealth can offer and dragged down by grinding poverty in the post war years. I feel the author has captured the drudgery and monotony that can overshadow a life, as well as the potential beauty. He has so convincingly demonstrated, through Christine, the highs and lows of capitalist society, and how this can affect one woman’s life. I felt such sympathy for her, having her hopes for a different life so suddenly raised and just as suddenly shattered.The language is beautiful, the story compelling, and the pain palpable. This work was found after the author’s death by suicide in 1942. I would highly recommend it.
  • (5/5)
    As I read this novel by Stefan Zweig, the image of a roller coaster ride surfaced in my mind repeatedly. You know the way the car climbs slowly to the summit of each curve then shoots down the slope at high speed, then repeats the pattern again and again? This novel follows that pattern. Zweig's writing is brilliant! He juxtaposes long descriptive, contemplative passages with mind-boggling pivotal moments in the lives of the characters. The small roller coaster is the string of post WWI experiences of the protagonist, Christine, and eventually with Ferdinand as well. The meta-roller coaster is the sense of loss, lack of meaning, and search for meaning experienced by all who were touched by the war. Zweig's use of language, his characters, and his plot make this a memorable read!
  • (4/5)
    Christine, the main character in this sad, moving, and powerful story works in a post office in Austria after ww1. Her life is at best gray. At times depressing. She is a young woman with no future living in a village that has no culture or beauty. Are you depressed yet! By change her mother's sister that had escaped the family before the war and married a very rich man invites her to spend time with her in a resort in the Swiss Alps. Suddenly Christine is show a whole new world of beauty, luxery, a world that has a future, a world where hope exist. When her aunt sends her away Christine's old world is even more depressing and dark. This a dark book about lifes many lifes in which joy and hope are at best fleeting.
  • (5/5)
    Although I do not agree with the underlying and final premise of the story, that criminal behavior against the state is excusable because life has been a rough one, I found the story engrossing and its conclusion almost inevitable. The post-office girl, the principal subject of the story, is as the title implies a girl in charge of a post-office in some out of the way Austrian town. She has had a very rough life, with misfortunes followed by misfortunes. At the beginning of the story, she is taking care of her ill mother and barely able to make ends meet. She has to watch her expenses from day to day and is hardly ever able to purchase something for herself that would give her enjoyment. She is almost totally destitute with a very dire future. The apparent satisfaction with her current life is broken when she gets invited to spend two weeks vacation in a high-end resort hotel by a sister of her mother who just returned from America. There she is exposed to a life she never thought of, even dreamed off. But it was a life of reckless abandoment, complete careless enjoyment, until it's cut short by the jealousy of her aunt's husband. She is sent back to her home town to her post-office job.Back in the dreary, daily work at the post-office she has a difficult time adjusting, thinking back to the good like she had albeit momentarily. She becomes very resentful. She meets a friend of her sister's husband, who had been a prisoner of war for several years and had tried to get back to a normal job but couldn't get any permanent job because of his war injuries. He also sees himself as a victim of the state. He brings up the idea of stealing the funds from the post-office, when he finds out that at some time during the month the post-office has several tens of thousands of shillings. The book ends with a cool discussion and agreement between both of them that they will comit the crime and steal the funds.This is the part that I found objectionable. The discussion of whether or not to steal is put within the context of analyzing the likelihood of getting caught, and the kind of life they would lead after the act. But there is very little concern for the moral or ethical aspects of stealing the funds. Also, no possible remorse for doing it.Nonetheless, this is a story that I would recommend. It's very well written.
  • (5/5)
    Would it really be a kindness to take a person living their entire life thus far in dull poverty and transport them for 8 days into the very lap of capitalistic luxury, in full knowledge that at the end of the vacation, they would be returned to their previous life?Christine was one such person, living in post-war Austria with her ailing mother, knowing nothing but poverty and a dreary job in her little town's post office. Her wealthy American aunt, having a sudden attack of conscience, decides to invite her to spend 2 weeks with her in Switzerland. Our mousey unassuming Christine is almost paralyzed with fear when she arrives, believing herself to be unworthy of such luxury, and embarrassed by her old and unfashionable clothes and suitcase. But after an afternoon of shopping with her aunt for new clothes and shoes, and a stylish haircut, Christine emerges like a new butterfly. Unused to being surrounded by beauty, luxury, and elegant society, she flits about and her innocent delight with everyone and everything she sees sets a glow about her, enchanting and alluring. Our shy post office girl relishes her new found confidence and spirited joy. But without warning, her aunt brusquely sends her back home, back to her old job, back to her joyless life. Her mother passes away while she's on her way back. To Christine, life could not be more bleak in comparison to the careless frivolity she enjoyed just a short while ago. She's no longer kind nor generous with her time to her neighbors and those who come to the post office. She wears her bitterness like a thick coat around herself, impenetrable and puzzling to all who had known her. She visits her sister's family in Vienna, and meets Ferdinand, a veteran of the war, and an equally bitter soul. Bitter because he's been discarded by society and the government like an old odd sock since his return from Siberia. The 2 of them form an awkward relationship. It's not one that either finds particularly joyful but it's one they cling to because they understand each other's bitterness. Their increasing anger and disappointments takes them to a turning point in their lives.This is an absorbing work and one that is masterfully crafted. It's also one that lingers in the reader's mind after the last page has been turned.
  • (3/5)
    Ends too soon, but still a well-written book. A lot of familiar themes, small town girl goes to a posh resort, and hijinks ensues.
  • (5/5)
    This is Stefan Zweig's last novel. Christine lost the best years of her life to the First World War, which began when she was just 16 and which also took her father, her brother, her family's wealth and her mother's health. Through connections, she manages to find a job as a post office clerk in an isolated village. The salary, barely adequate for one, is stretched to also care for her mother and means that they live as unwelcome tenants in a damp attic room. Now in her late twenties, Christine lives a quiet life, until an aunt and uncle, visiting from America, invites her to stay with with them in a Swiss resort town. Christine blossoms under the care and luxury of this alien life. She dances and laughs with witty, well-dressed men and discovers a new way of looking at life, but eventually and too soon, she returns to her old life as the post office girl and finds that she can't return to her earlier acceptance of her straightened circumstances.The Post Office Girl is beautifully written and so perfectly captures Christine's inner feelings as she moves from blind acceptance to elation to a clear-eyed awareness of the bleakness of her life. The War to End All Wars destroyed more than young men's lives and the economic depression that followed robbed many of all hope, while the well-off danced, blithely unaware of the suffering around them. I'd expected this to be a serious and somewhat dour read, but found instead an impossible to put down novel about a vibrant woman destroyed by circumstances beyond her control. It's not a feel-good story, but it's also not without hope and the ending was pitch perfect and occurred at the right moment.
  • (5/5)
    Started kind of slow, but soon I was totally enthralled by this little story. It actually even hit close to home a bit. Grew up in a small, unimportant town and faced with adversity at every turn. Went away, had a great job and a magical life for a few years before it was suddenly snatched away - forcing me to return to my hometown to live with my parents. It was serendipitous to be reading this book when I was just facing my own disgust at my re-introduced provincial life. That anger is normal. Christine finds a person who understands the misery she has of experiencing respite from a hopeless life then being shipped back before she even fully realized what happened, and they manage to find a way to end their (separate but equal) suffering together. It's at once a fairy tale and a grim reminder of misery, suffering and the lengths a human will take to make it go away.
  • (5/5)
    An extremely well written book - Zweig captures people's emotions and feelings so simply and yet accurately. The storyline is described rather overtly on the NYRB backcover. I wonder if Zweig intended a third part ? and the second half rather foreshadows his own life in Brazil.
  • (5/5)
    Christine Hoflehner is the administrator of a tiny Austrian village post office in the 1920s. Only 28 years old, she lives with her sickly mother, attempting to provide for two people on her meager salary. Her life is confined to her remote village, and varies little from day-to-day. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, her aunt and uncle invite her to join them on holiday. Claire (the aunt) left Austria as a young woman, married a successful American business man, and has a lifestyle beyond Christine's imagination. Christine travels by train to Switzerland; her first view of the Alps is the beginning of her transformation:She's been living as though all this didn't exist, never saw it, hardly cared to; like a fool she dozed off in this tiny little room ... just a night away, a day away from this infinitude, these manifold immensities! Indifferent and without desires before, now she begins to realize what she's been missing. This contact with the overpowering is her first encounter with travel's disconcerting ability to strip the hard shell of habit from the heart, leaving only the bare, fertile kernel. (p. 34)On arrival at the Swiss resort, Christine feels uncomfortable and out-of-place with all the wealthy patrons. The status-conscious Claire whisks Christine away to a beauty salon, followed by a shopping spree, and Christine blossoms under the attention. She begins to assimilate into the resort community, passing as a wealthy socialite and becoming the center of attention both with her contemporaries and some of the older guests.And then suddenly it all comes to an end, and Christine returns to her village and her monotonous post office job. Experience with a life of luxury makes living without all the more difficult. After a few weeks, feeling stifled, she traveled to Vienna on her day off:She didn't know why she was going there, had no clear idea what she wanted, other than to get away, away from the village, from her work, from herself, from the person she was condemned to be. She just wanted to feel the wheels turning beneath her again, see lights, see different people, ones with more intelligence and style, ... to be a different person, not the same old one. (p. 158)In Vienna she meets Ferdinand, a young man of the same age bearing horrible emotional scars from the war. Together they show the impact of the war on everyday men and women. Christine lost loved ones in the war and lived with years of economic hardship. Ferdinand saw the war first-hand; afterward he was unable to afford education, and was equally unable to find work. They bond out of a shared sense of desperation, and craft a daring, last-ditch attempt to improve their circumstances.Stefan Zweig paints a vivid portrait of Austria following World War I: profound loss, widespread poverty, and an overall sense of hopelessness and desperation. Zweig himself left his native country during the rise of Nazism, and, along with his wife, committed suicide. Published posthumously, The Post-Office Girl offers insight to the motives leading to Zweig's last act.
  • (4/5)
    The novel is set in the aftermath of the First World War in Austria: The Austro-Hungarian Empire is no more and for the average citizen life is tough with high prices and shortages.The post office girl of the title is Christine, a twenty-something postmistress in a remote village miles from Vienna. She leads a life of routine, of penny-pinching economies, supporting her widowed mother: she has never been in love nor even had a boyfriend. Out of the blue she is given the opportunity by wealthy American relatives to spend a fortnight with them in a grand hotel in Switzerland, all expenses paid. In a Cinderella-like fashion they supply her with fine new clothes (so that neither she nor they are shown up), pay for her to have a more flattering hair-do etc. She is soon transformed from a gauche young woman to a confident one, excited by the admiring looks of men, by fine dining, by luxury. But Zweig is not a writer of romances: even before the end of Part One we know that no white knight will sweep her off her feet and take her from a life of drudgery. Part Two is much darker in tone. And unfortunately, without giving the plot away, the writing is less good: whereas in Part One the descriptions were powerful and alive with great psychological insights, Part Two is worthy but rather boring: there are great long sections of declamatory speech by Ferdinand who she has met in Vienna, a confused embittered radical.Only when I read the afterword did I realise why the book wasn’t published until 1982, forty years after the author’s suicide.
  • (4/5)
    A new author for me. I had not heard of him until there were discussions on LT about him. This book was quite a pleasant read and I will probably read more by this author. (The copy that I read was published by the NY Review of Books, one of their "Classics". The web site lists all of the books they publish, quite an interesting list, from a wide range of authors.)The story takes place in post-WWI Austria and the privations of that era play a role in the story.Christine lives in a small town and has a more-or less- secure job as a government employee but also feels trapped by both the job and the small town. She is invited by an aunt to spend a vacation at a luxury resort and she gets swept away by the opulence there, the privileges of that life. She is devastated when it is taken away. And that sets the stage for the second part of the book.Money plays a major role in the story - "the vast power of money, mighty when you have it and even mightier when you don't, with its divine gift of freedom and the demonic fury it unleashes on those forced to do without it. Zweig's words will melt you, will make you "know" the characters, even if you don't really like them.
  • (4/5)
    One of Zweig’s books that became the influence for The Grand Budapest Hotel, this is Zweig’s posthumous unfinished novel. Its story, of a poor clerk working in a rural Austrian post office, and her swift decline into bitterness and post-war ressentiment following a brief taste of upper class life. The plot is unfinished, and even sadder for it. Zweig expresses the anger of the post-recession disenfranchised in a way that helps to understand Brexit and Corbyn.
  • (4/5)
    Vivid portrayal of life in Austria after WWI. Read for my NYU course. Very Germanic in its attitudes and certainly shows how Hitler could have come to power. Depressing characters.
  • (5/5)
    The Post-Office Girl is set in Austria in the 1920s, where life was very harsh for people afflicted by post-war poverty and unemployment. The novel was written during the 1930s when the author was living abroad in exile from the Nazis and was only published after his death. It is about a young woman, Christine, who works in the village post office. She has experienced great hardship during the war, constantly worrying about money and working hard all day long to support her sick mother. One of the themes of the book seemed to be the waste of youth, both as experienced by individuals and for a whole generation whose lives were ruined by the First World War, and the way in which, even once the war-time suffering was apparently over, the people and the country found it difficult to recover. This generation seem to feel that they were born at the wrong time, and even those just a little younger have more chance in life than they do themselves: “...these post-war seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds aren’t waiting quietly and patiently, waiting for someone to want them and take them. They’re demanding pleasure as their right, demanding it as impetuously as though it’s not just their own young lives they’re living but the lives of the hundred thousand dead and buried too... Surrounded by this coarse and lustful postwar generation she feels ancient, tired, useless, and overwhelmed, unwilling and unable to compete. No more struggling, no more striving, that’s the main thing! Breathe calmly, daydream quietly, do your work, water the flowers in the window, ask not, want not. No more asking for anything, nothing new, nothing exciting. The war stole her decade of youth. She has no courage, no strength left even for happiness.”Christine’s life suddenly changes when her rich American aunt and uncle invite her to accompany them on holiday to Switzerland. Immediately she is overwhelmed by a life of excess and pleasure, dresses in beautiful new clothes bought by her aunt, mingles with the wealthy guests at the hotel, and spends her time in a whirl of dancing and parties. The book really creates a sense of the elation Christine feels in her new life of luxury, evoking the kind of intense longing for wealth and happiness that only someone who lives in exile and deprivation can feel. The main focus is on how Christine is transformed by her new surroundings. Her appearance is altered within hours by the ‘makeover’ her aunt gives her (‘not even in a dream has she ever dared to imagine herself so lovely, so young, so smart’), the way people respond to her is different, she is popular and admired, men pursue her, and her personality becomes carefree, vivacious and even a little naive. It was rather difficult for me to believe that Christine could change so much within little more than a week and could forget her everyday life and sick mother so completely. But if this part of the book isn’t quite realistic (to me), it is gripping as a kind of fairy tale and an exploration of how people are affected by their surroundings, their social status and their wealth or poverty. I think everyone must know the feeling of being a slightly different person when you are removed from your usual routine or spend time with a new group of people, and are even given a glimpse of the kind of person you could be if your life took another course. This novel takes this idea to an extreme, focusing mainly on the effects of social class and wealth. Christine herself feels a sense of unease at how her identity has been disrupted, thinking ‘is there suddenly something in me that was always there and yet not there, something that just couldn’t get out?’ and when questioning her sense of self, ‘confidence turns into insecurity again’.This part of the book and Christine’s relationships with the other hotel guests is completely absorbing (as is the whole novel), but then this wonderful but fragile new life comes crashing down and Christine is sent home to her lonely old life, sleeping in a damp attic and working at mindless tasks in the post office. She then meets Ferdinand, who was a prisoner of war in Siberia, and has also had his youth and plans for a career as an architect taken away from him by the war. Christine’s relationship with Ferdinand is quite moving, being based on an instant understanding and connection between them, and the way their experiences and reactions paralleled each other. It is clear that Christine can only feel love for someone who feels the same sense of anger and disappointment in life that she does. Like Christine, Ferdinand almost has two selves, the ‘before and after’ superimposed over one another. I found it interesting that Christine seemed to feel a stronger desire for the men she met while living in luxury in Switzerland, even though she had fairly shallow relationships with them; she was somehow enabled to feel desire by the hedonistic, flirtatious atmosphere at the hotel and her own new feeling of liberation and excitement. She has much deeper feelings for Ferdinand but they are both too worn down to feel much passion, and their poverty often leaves them without a place they can be alone together. They recognise an ally in each other, having each found a sympathetic listener, someone who really understands what the other is feeling, and their relationship is formed by long conversations. Ferdinand has the same feeling of anger that the impersonal force of the government has taken part of his life from him: ‘We came into the world at a bad time. No doctor’s going to fix that, those six years of youth ripped out of me, and who’s going to reimburse me?’ Their relationship is hopeless but also has some beauty, as it’s essentially two people against the rest of the world and what could be more romantic than that? I would definitely recommend this book - it is a completely addictive read and written with great intensity.
  • (3/5)
    The first page had me hooked. I thought I was going to get a classic modernist take on Germany between the wars. Thereafter, however, the writing was leaden, the narrative dull.
  • (5/5)
    Who am I? Who am I? This is what the lead character whispers as she looks in the mirror in her opulent hotel room. She has been transformed from Christine,a dour postal clerk, to Christiane,a beautiful social butterfly, through the largesse of an aunt. She lost the ability to express joy as she experienced the loss of a brother, a father and a comfortable life during WWI. She now toils away as a clerk and cares for her invalid mother, struggling in poverty. Invited to join her aunt and uncle for a two week period at a fancy resort, within twelve hours after her arrival with pitiful clothes packed in a single straw bag, her aunt has showered her with new clothes, haircut and makeup. She blossoms into a vivacious, enchanting young woman who attracts lots of attention. Alas, the ball ends abruptly and Cinderella does not live happily ever after. After returning to her small Austrian home town she is angry. Not that her mother died while Christine was away, but that the town and the people are as meager as ever and not a catalyst for the continued existence of joyful Christiane. She seeks excitement by traveling to Vienna. Though she might might walk into the lobby of the opera or sit in a restaurant, she realizes that she remains outsider.She finds solace in a WWI vet who is also mired in poverty and bitter over his inability to overcome the lost time and opportunities because of years he spent in Siberia and his inability, at the age of 30, to get his life back on track. When she looks at him she sees his angular, bitter face sometimes morphing into the innocent and excited face of the innocent 19 -year-old that he was before the war. So who is he, really. Their relationship is not love, it is shared misery. At the end of the story, as in the beginning, money is the strongest catalyst for Christine's life.Despite the somber and sad arc of the story, the writing is entrancing.
  • (4/5)
    The Post-Office Girl is about a woman who works in a small town Post Office in Austria who becomes frustrated with her social status and is led to consider extreme measures to get out of her situation. The story takes place just after World War I, with the effects of the war on the Austrian people and economy playing a large role in the story. Fiercely anti-capitalist in sentiment, The Post Office Girl contrasts the postal employee, Christl, with the posh extravagances expended by the aristocracy of the countries who benefited from the war, notably British and American citizens. The freedom of the aristocrats to live life as they choose leads Christl to her final dilemma and the novel's thrilling finish.While well written and engaging, I found The Post-Office Girl to be frustrating. Christl was completely incapable of seeing any value in her lower middle class background, even when confronted with people poorer then herself or when she had weekends in Vienna to look forward to. She came off as rather maudlin in her belief that her life was so terrible. She had a job, a pension, and a lover in another city while thousands of her countrymen were living in abject poverty due to hyperinflation after the war. I found it difficult to sympathize with her, which took away some of the joy of reading the book. Despite all of its flaws, I can't really say that I didn't like the book. I was merely frustrated with it. I actually found it to be very well written and difficult to put down. The characters seemed very real and I truly cared what happened to them, and the book did help the reader to understand how the Austrian citizens felt about themselves and their government after the war. If not for the frustrating attitudes of the characters, it would be a really great novel. Instead, it is merely good but is definitely worth reading.
  • (4/5)
    A well-written and engaging novel. But am I really supposed to believe this presents an anti-capitalist sentiment? Am I supposed to pity the circumstances of the characters? On the contrary I pitied their snobbery and their dreams of living a vapid consumerist life. I found it depressing, and hoped Christine would snap out of it. But in the end it becomes clear that Zweig wanted us to feel sympathetic to these wealth addicts, to support them in their final decision. I found it very bizarre, and a bit hard to believe. But it does begin to make sense when you realize that the author was an aristocrat himself, born to a family of wealthy bankers and textile manufacturers.
  • (4/5)
    It’s post World War I Austria. Christine works in a provincial post office. She is only in her mid-20s but is all-ready feeling the weight and dreariness of the middle-aged. She’s unmarried and shares a gloomy hovel with her disabled mother. She has no friends and no social life. One day, she receives a telegram from her wealthy Aunt. An invitation to join them in a mountain resort in Switzerland. Christine accepts and finds herself transformed, thrown into a world of luxury, romance and opulence. Unfortunately, this only lasts a short time and she suddenly finds herself disgraced and sent back home, where her life will never be the same again.This is the second book I’ve read by Zweig, who died tragically, nearly seventy years ago and what an amazing find he is. His prose is vibrant and impassioned, leaving the reader yearning for more. Highly recommended.