Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig

I am yet to watch the Oscar winning film The Grand Budapest Hotel, a story influenced by the life and writings of Austrian war-time writer Stefan Zweig; when I do though I shall eagerly look for references to The Post Office Girl.

This is a novel in two distinct and abruptly different parts. In part one the reader is introduced to civil servant Christine, who works without complaint at the post office in a small Austrian town. Her life shuffles between the banal and just plain tiring, after which she returns home to tend to her ailing mother. Post-war austerity has robbed Christine of the joys of being a young woman.

“The war stole her decade of youth. She has no courage, no strength left even for happiness”.

Out of nowhere an invitation is extended to Christine by her wealthy aunt to join her and her husband at a Swiss resort. Christine is quickly drawn into a world of glamour and luxury and naively believes she belongs there. Zweig’s description of Christine’s experience is dizzying and lavish, but when she is suddenly sent packing by her aunt the reality of her situation becomes too much for Christine to bear.

Part two sees Christine return to her former life with a bitterness and despair that knows no bounds. She is introduced to Ferdinand, a disabled war-veteran, and in him Christine finds a similarly disillusioned soul. This section of the book is a grim look at how poverty is all consuming. It seems much more political than part one and it hammers home (perhaps somewhat repetitively at times) the point that the world is a different and unforgiving place for those on the fringes of society.

“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...”

The book ends abruptly after Christine and Ferdinand formulate a plan to take back control of their lives. While we are given no clues as to how their story ends it ultimately feels like a tragedy.

Posted by CP

Catalogue link: The Post Office Girl

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