Ostend: Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, and the Summer Before the Dark
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It’s the summer of 1936, and the writer Stefan Zweig is in crisis. His German publisher no longer wants him, his marriage is collapsing, and his house in Austria—searched by the police two years earlier—no longer feels like home. He’s been dreaming of Ostend, the Belgian beach town that is a paradise of promenades, parasols, and old friends. So he journeys there with his lover, Lotte Altmann, and reunites with fellow writer and semi-estranged close friend Joseph Roth, who is himself about to fall in love. For a moment, they create a fragile haven. But as Europe begins to crumble around them, the writers find themselves trapped on vacation, in exile, watching the world burn. In Ostend, Volker Weidermann lyrically recounts “the summer before the dark,” when a coterie of artists, intellectuals, drunks, revolutionaries, and madmen found themselves in limbo while Europe teetered on the edge of fascism and total war.
Ostend is the true story of two of the twentieth century’s great writers, written with a novelist’s eye for pacing, chronology, and language—a dazzling work of historical nonfiction.
(Translated from the German by Carol Brown Janeway)
today. To the Café Flore. There’s someone I have to introduce you to. They go over by train. The promenade is pullulating with vacationers—children in bright hats, sun, the easy life. They sit down in the Flore in the shade under the awning, with a view of the beach, and are ordering aperitifs when two men arrive. The one is in a pale suit, with waistcoat and tie, well-trimmed mustache and thick hair, and dark darting eyes; self-confident, worldly, with a firm stride, like an elegant shrew in
nonetheless. But when he is sitting next day on the market square with Irmgard Keun and Hermann Kesten at a bistro table that looks like a beer mug, he orders three glasses of liqueur and empties them over his jacket one after the other, to the wild applause of his girlfriend, as Hermann Kesten recalls later. “What are you doing?” asks Kesten. “I’m punishing Stefan Zweig,” Roth replies. “That’s how millionaires are! They take us to the tailor, but they forget to buy us a jacket to go with the
alone his financial responsibility, for his friend has just increased. And he also realizes that he will be unable to carry it on his own. At first Roth’s panic is contained within bounds. Zweig has left him enough money to be able to live without worries for several weeks. And he hasn’t just finished his next novel, Weights and Measures, he’s already started a new one, The String of Pearls. True, both Querido and de Lange turn it down, but De Gemeenschap is ready to pay a not-inconsiderable
they went to a Jewish inn, the best in Lemberg according to Roth, called Zehngut. The fatherless Roth wanted to know everything about Soma Morgenstern’s father. How much he loved him, how much he wanted his son to study law, and so on. A very old man, a regular guest, with a pointed beard, came into the inn. Roth looked at him, fascinated. How would Morgenstern himself look when he was old? he asked his friend. Morgenstern had never thought about it. And anyway, the men in his family didn’t live
allowed to work with this world-famous man and even to be of assistance to him in many situations. She was twenty-six years old when she met him, unsure of herself, without a profession or a husband or a country. And a dream for him too, very uneasy in this foreign city and in the English language, and so more in need of support than he had ever been. He was fifty-three and world famous. Famous, yes, but shy and strangely ill at ease in new situations and in company, never entirely sure of