You’ve probably never heard of Stefan Zweig.
I only discovered him recently. He wrote this book, you see, back in 1942. An autobiography. It’s called The World of Yesterday.
All of a sudden, people out of nowhere were recommending it to me. An old college professor. A friend’s wife. My mom. My freaking mom asks me on the phone “Have you ever read Stefan Zweig’s autobiography?”
So I call up a local independent bookstore.
“Green Arcade books,” says the man on the other end of the phone. “How can I help you?”
“Yes, hi. I’m wondering if you have Stefan Zweig’s autobiography, The World of Yesterday?”
He responds immediately. “You’re JOKING!”
I give this some thought. “No, I’m pretty sure I’m not.”
“Okay,” he says. “Yes. I have The World of Yesterday.”
“Great. How late are you open?”
He considers. “I don’t know.”
“Well, you’ve been a great help.”
“There’s a poetry reading tonight,” he explains. “I don’t know how long it’s going to go.”
The thing about Zweig is, he was once a world famous author. You’ve probably never heard of him … I’d never heard of him … but he was published in all the big literary journals for almost half a century. He was friends with Rilke and Rodin. He knew Freud. He knew Borgese. He knew Yeats and Pirandello and Gorky and Ravel and Joyce and Anatole France. He was kind of the pre-WWII Johnny Carson. He was a big deal, is what I’m saying. I kind of want to be him.
The thing is, he saw that whole world wiped away by the Nazis. Gone. Obliterated.
This had actually happened to him before. (Yes, yes, I know: I’ll get to Burning Man eventually. Stay with me.) Read more »