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Zweig, Stefan

story game stories royal

(Austrian, 1881–1942)

Zweig is probably better known for his biographies than for his fiction; indeed he wrote a great deal of the former and relatively little of the latter. There is just one novel, Beware of Pity (1938; Engl. tr. 1982), a powerful psychological study of an officer's disastrous engagement to the crippled daughter of a wealthy friend, set in the dying years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But it is his short stories that are exceptional, and which really give you a sense of his style and range. Start with ‘The Royal Game’ (in The Royal Game, and Other Stories, 1983), one of his last pieces of work, the story of a chess game (taking place on board an ocean liner) between world champion Mirko Czentovic and ‘Dr. B.’, a man who hasn't played for twenty-five years and yet has extraordinary and unaccountable skill at the game. The profile of the Doctor as seen in the story-within-the-story is brilliantly drawn, and the examination of the nature of obsession is thrilling and disturbing. If you enjoy this, move onto some of the earlier stories; especially recommended are ‘Amok’, ‘The Invisible Collection’ and the haunting ‘Letter from an Unknown Woman’.

Joseph Conrad, Robert Musil, Anton Chekhov  DHa

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