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Beware of Pity (Stefan Zweig's classic novel) (B-Format Paperback) Paperback – 31 Jan. 2013
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In 1913 a young second lieutenant discovers the terrible danger of pity. He had no idea the girl was lame when he asked her to dance - his compensatory afternoon calls relieve his guilt but give her a dangerous glimmer of hope.
Stefan Zweig's only novel is a devastating depiction of the torment of the betrayal of both honour and love, realised against the background of the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
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'Beware of Pity is chillingly resonant in the Trump era... [in Beware of Pity] this sense of creeping decomposition is compulsively alive. It is hypnotic' -- Simon McBurney, Guardian
'Turns everything you think you believe about compassion on its head' -- Nicole Barker
'Beware of Pity is the most exciting book I have ever read...a feverish, fascinating novel' -- Antony Beevor, Sunday Telegraph
'The novel I'll really remember reading this year is Stefan Zweig's frighteningly gripping Beware of Pity... part of the ongoing, valiant reprinting by Pushkin Press of Zweig's collected oeuvre; an intoxicating, morally shaking read about human responsibilities and a real reminder of what fiction can do best' -- Ali Smith, TLS Book of the Year 2008
'An unremittingly tense parable about emotional blackmail, this is a book which turns every reader into a fanatic' -- Julie Kavanagh, Intelligent Life
'It's just a masterpiece. When I read it I thought, how is it that I don't already know about this?' -- Wes Anderson
'The rediscovery of this extraordinary writer could well be on a par with last year's refinding of the long-lost Stoner, by John Williams, and which similarly could pluck his name out of a dusty obscurity' -- Simon Winchester, Telegraph
'Zweig's single greatest work' -- The Times
'Zweig's fictional masterpiece' -- Guardian
'Combines great storytelling with wonderful prose' -- Jeffrey Archer, Independent
'Original and powerful' -- New York Times
'It's a masterpiece. I didn't discover it till I was 16-years-old. He was the number one on the bestseller lists in the 1940s. He was a great storyteller and great writer, amazing combination' --Jeffery Archer, DNA India
About the Author
Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) was born in Vienna, into a wealthy Austrian-Jewish family. He studied in Berlin and Vienna and was first known as a poet and translator, then as a biographer. Zweig travelled widely, living in Salzburg between the wars, and was an international bestseller with a string of hugely popular novellas including Letter from an Unknown Woman, Amok and Fear.
In 1934, with the rise of Nazism, he moved to London, where he wrote his only novel Beware of Pity. He later moved on to Bath, taking British citizenship after the outbreak of the Second World War. With the fall of France in 1940 Zweig left Britain for New York, before settling in Brazil, where in 1942 he and his wife were found dead in an apparent double suicide.
Much of his work is available from Pushkin Press.
- Publisher : Pushkin Press; New edition (31 Jan. 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 464 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1908968370
- ISBN-13 : 978-1908968371
- Dimensions : 12.9 x 3 x 19.8 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 91,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from United Kingdom
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It does everything that really great books should do.
The story is set in Austria, the year is 1914, it is peacetime during the run up to WW1.
A young cavalry officer is invited to a party at the home of the most wealthy family in the town he is stationed in.
At the party he sees his host’s daughter sitting with her legs covered by a blanket.
Unaware that beneath the blanket her disfigured legs are useless, our young cavalry officer asks her to dance.
Everything goes downhill from there.
Beware of Pity is an impressive yet incredibly sad story and one that will resonate with readers long after they've read it.
From a woman's point of view the story of the unfortunate Edith seemed unbearably tragic. However the book was written from a male point of view. The first person, Lieutenant Hofmiller, a cavalry officer of the Austrian-Hungarian army on the eve of WWI, appears to be a well-mannered young man displaying much sympathy and compassion for the less fortunate, but is torn between vanity and his conscience. As the translator put it, he is both 'idealistic and irresolute'. He falls prey to the trappings of the rich and famous but detests being considered a 'gold-digger' among his fellow comrades.
On the character of Edith, Zweig used plenty of Freudian psychoanalysis to dissect the psyche of the physically handicapped girl. On one side, her extremely fragile and hyper-sensitive nerves make her hysterical; on the other hand, she displays acute perception of other people while she is wheelchair-bound all day long. The 'hero' Lieutenant Hofmiller' is a healthy young man. Many would agree that it would be perfectly normal for him to feel uncomfortable at the sight of such a sickly young woman. Yet his sense of decency and his politeness got the better of his prejudices. He feels sorry for her and tries his best to be nice but unwillingly becomes an object of her desire. It was expected from the beginning this was going to happen and one could have guessed that it was in the rich old father's scheme to catch a weak and innocent young man to look after his sick daughter. But Hoffmiller was too naïve to recognise this possibility. By the time he finds it out, it is too late. The young woman has become obsessed by him. He wants to scarper but again his fear and guilty conscience get the better of him and stop him running away. He is trapped in a dilemma. The proverb "No good deed goes unpunished" seemed to apply to him. He had somehow invited this situation due to his own good nature.
Another point; Zweig being Jewish himself made some interesting observations of the Jewish character. The old man Kekesfalva married a German woman, converted to Christianity and bought his aristocratic title to elevate his status as a Jewish merchant. But his social climbing is stopped short by double tragedies, first being the early death of his wife, then the accident that crippled his daughter for life. One wonders if Zweig, who wrote this novel in 1938 on the eve of WWII, was sending a subliminal message about the tragic consequences of a Judeo-German marriage with the gathering storm clouds in Europe
Although you may guess the general direction of the tale it is remarkable for the depth with which Zweig explores the narrator's complex emotions, and for the vivid evocation of a world about to end - the privileged, snobbish, ritualistic ostrich-like world of the ossified Austro-Hungarian army. He describes with great realism the joys of riding in close formation with one's men, or galloping freely across the countryside, the huge social pressure to conform in this community rife with gossip and banter bordering on bullying. The book reminds me strongly of Roth's "The Radestky March".
If the style sometimes seems anti-semitic, this must be a reflection of the times, since Zweig was himself a Jew. I admit to finding the emotional intensity overwhelming at times, although Zweig has a gift for taking you to the limit of endurance and then introducing a fresh development which releases the tension and shifts you to a contrasting mood - which may in turn become too much. In view of Zweig's suicide during World War 2, a few years after this book was written, one wonders how much it reflects the overwrought emotional rollercoaster of his own thoughts.
I understand why some reviewers feel the plot is too slight for a full length novel, but on balance Zweig "carries it off" as a psychological study and period piece. I could have done without the "frame" device used, apparently quite popular in the early C20, i.e. to commence with another narrator describing how he meets Hofmiller who implausibly recounts the story in great detail.
Recommended for reading on Kindle.