In the bleak years following World War One, Christine is one of the lucky few with a job in an economically destroyed Austria; she’s a civil servant working in a provincial post office in a safe government job. At 28, she’s working full time, both at the post office and at home, where she’s caring for her sick mother, and has no prospects or expectations for the future. One day, Christine receives a telegram from an American aunt, inviting her to join her aunt and uncle in a resort in the Swiss Alps. A few days later, she arrives at the hotel and is immediately transported into a care-free world of wealth and luxury, and her transformation begins. Abruptly, rumours and jealousy cast a shadow over her, and the dream of a different life is cut short, sending her back to the post office, but with a new outlook on life.
The manuscript for this novel was found amongst the authors papers after he’d died in 1942, and was published posthumously. I’m not sure exactly when he wrote it, but I’m guessing in the 1930’s, and what I find incredible, is how modern the book feels. Although this is a modern translation, I can’t imagine any translator would attempt to alter the style or language of the original work, so I’m assuming this is a true representation of the authors manuscript, and as such it is a great piece of writing. I felt as though the story and characters could be transplanted into a modern day setting, and would still be just as relevant as the post-WWI Austria and Switzerland Zweig has represented.
Christine’s story reveals an emotional journey from resignation, to the awakening to hope and joy, through confusion and embarrassment, and finally the anger and despair of a young woman who has glimpsed the wonders that the world can hold, only to have it all snatched away. It is the transition of a young woman who has never had the opportunity to fulfil her potential, whose naivety and joy is a breath of fresh air amongst the wealth and riches of the hotel guests, but is her downfall as jealousy rears its ugly head, and she is plunged back into her old life with little hope of an escape back to the colourful, care-free world she knows is out there.
The way the author writes from Christine’s point of view feels very real, and the emotional rollercoaster we are taken on is the heart of this book, while it always has an eye on the sociological issues of the period as the backdrop to the story. Christine’s thought processes, drifting fluidly or flitting quickly, are written with clarity and feel very honest.
As the book was not submitted as a finished manuscript by the author himself, we can’t be sure if this was the completed book he’d planned. The denouement of the book concludes in a very abrupt manner, but I hope it was how the author intended it to end. It doesn’t try to end the story and leaves the reader to decide how they think the lives of the characters will continue, yet instead of leaving me wanting more, wanting to know what happened next, I thought the single world last sentence was the most satisfying ending to a book I’ve read in recent times.