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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Amok (1922) by Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig is apparently such a big influence on Wes Anderson that he dedicated his most recent film, Hotel Budapest, to him. 

Book Review
Amok (1922)
by Stefan Zweig
in The Royal Game and Other Stories
1981 Harmony Press translated from the German by Jill Sutcliffe

  Add to the seemingly endless list of authors I've never heard of, Stefan Zweig.  I was blissfully unaware of him until last month, when I went to see the new Wes Anderson film, Hotel Budapest, and saw that he had, in fact, dedicated the film to Stefan Zweig. Zweig is a bit of a forgotten man in the story of 20th century literature.  It's true today, and it was true in 1981, when John Fowles wrote the introduction to the volume that contained the version of Amok that I read.  According to Fowles, Zweig was hugely popular in his day, which makes his eclipse all the more puzzling.

 I mean, I'm not saying I'm some kind of literary expert, but I feel like if he was being read today I would not have heard of him for the very first time via the end credits in a Wes Anderson film.  Again, according to Fowles, Zweig was obsessed with the idea of obsession, or "mono-mania" as he called it back then.  Like many enduring authors of the 1920s, Zweig was hip to the teaching of Freud (Zweig was a Viennan by birth and lived there until the great unpleasantness of World War II began to take shape.)

 Amok is framed by an unnamed narrator taking a cruise to Australia from Southeast Asia.  On board he meets a Doctor who is actively seeking to avoid everyone else on board.  The Doctor relates to him the story of a wealthy English wife of a Dutch trader who is seeking to terminate a pregnancy that is the result of an affair that took place while her husband was abroad.  The Doctor refuses her rich offer of money, instead insisting that he...um... be able to "fully possess her."  He compares his state to what happens to the natives when they drink to much- they "run amok" - a familiar term to us today, but not in 1922.

  I think this is the first description of an abortion in any story I've read, chronologically speaking.

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