translated by Anthea Bell
2015, Pushkin Press
Have you seen the Netflix miniseries The Queen's Gambit, or the Wes Anderson film The Grand Budapest Hotel? Both were inspired by the work of Stefan Sweig.
Due to a lack of English translations in the past decades, Sweig (1881-1942) is less well known by English-speaking readers, but he has always been popular and among the great writers of Europe. Fortunately, in recent years, Pushkin Press has republished most of his work in English, which I hope you'll read.
Start by a story from Shooting Stars, where Sweig brilliantly recounts important moments or people in history as only he can: you'll be holding your breath to see what happens, even if you already know!
Here's a free PDF of online versions so you can read one right now.
My personal favorite is The Resurrection of George Frederic Handel, a heartbreaking then majestic story of inspiration. Handel's cantata The Messiah will never sound the same again! Note: My friend Jo, age 90, just walked in and said the Handel was also her favorite story, she remembers after reading it 30 years ago.
If you're more interested in, say, the Thrill of Victory and the Tragedy of Defeat, read The Race to Reach the South Pole or The Field of Waterloo. You won't be disappointed.
I agree with one reader who commented:
"Gems of literary perfection. I felt I had seldom read such lucid, liquid prose."(abebooks.com, Simon Winchester)
Sweig wrote many works of fiction, like the novella Chess Story, (guess which series mentioned above it inspired), plus fascinating biographies (Marie Stuart, Marie-Antoinette, Magellan, Dickens, Erasmus, Mary Baker Eddy, to name just a few), and much more. So if by chance you don't like the stories, don't give up on him.
If you read The Resurrection of George Frederic Handel, or any of the stories, let me know what you think, please.
Shooting Stars: Ten Historical Miniatures
Original title: Sternstunden der Menschheit (Decisive Moments in History), 1927. French title: Les Heures Etoilées de l'Humanité. Translated into English and published in 1940 as The Tide of Fortune: Twelve Historical Miniatures.