Book Review on The World of Yesterday

Book Review on The World of Yesterday

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The Death of a Soul, The Glance of History
And meet the time as it seeks us.
Before the preface, I saw the sentence adopted from Shakespeare¡¯s Cymberline . All of the sudden, a sense of seriousness and heaviness mounted up in my heart. I felt the author¡¯s tone of despair and disillusionment. ¡°at most, one generation had gone though a revolution, another experienced a putsch, the third a war, the fourth a famine, the fifth national bankruptcy¡­But we, who are sixty today and who, de jure, still have a space of time before us, what have we not seen, not suffered, not lived though?¡± Such struggling words can only be composed by a writer in unbearable agonies. Actually, the author was forced to witness the most terrible defeat of reason and the wildest triumph of brutality in the chronicle of the ages. What an embarrassing situation it was to an intellectual with great concern for the humanity and morality.
Stefan Zweig was born in 1881 in a middle class family in Austria and died at his own hands in 1942 at the age of 60, crossing two centuries, witnessing two contemporary wars. He was well-known as a novelist, a playwright, a biographer a manuscript collector and a pacifist. In 1934, he was exiled to Britain and then to Brazil where he lived his rest of life with his wife. The World of Yesterday is his autobiography written between 1939 and 1940. Zweig always encouraged his friends to set down their reminiscences, not necessarily for publication but for the pleasure and benefit of their children, their families. As for his own autography, he was to ¡°give some reflection of his life before it sinks into the darkness.¡±(P.9)
It is not so much an autobiography as a ¡°biography¡± of his time. It is a vivid, moving and nostalgic portrayal of Europe before wars; it is a story about intellectual brotherhood which tried to prevent national madness that destroyed the Europe and the world, twice. In the book, we picture the dramatic progress of material wealth and despairing collapse of morality. It also provides a source for us to know other great figures like Dostoyevsky, Goethe, Tolstoy and Freud who constituted the most glorious and attractive scenery at that time, making the sky not so sad.
If we intend to figure out one of the best times in history, there is no doubt that the time before the World War I¡ªZweig¡¯s childhood and youth hood¡ªis definitely one.

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It is a time that Zweig called the Golden Age of Security, a time when the first glance of the average Viennese into his morning paper was not at the events in parliament, or world affairs, but at the repertoire of the theatre which was predominant in the life of the individual and the masses. Perhaps Austria was the best place in that best time, the place where all the streams of European culture converged. As a curious and sensitive young man, enjoying the glorious inheritance, Zweig melted into the heart of the musical and academic atmosphere. Everything was orchestrated by music.
Similarly, if we are supposed to pick out the darkest time in the streaming river of history, the time after World War I may stand the ¡°notorious¡± name. After World War I, varieties of disasters emerged: war, revolutions, inflation, famine, epidemics, emigration, the rise of bolshevism, fascism and the most horrific all: nationalism in the cloak of patriotism. The ugliness and weakness of human nature was stirred out, and they brought forth tremendous catastrophes to themselves. Apparently the First World War was the watershed between the heaven and hell. ¡°World fell back morally a thousand years.¡±(P.7)
The fierce contrast, the paradox of humanity shook every nerve of an individual awakened. Numb and senseless people at that time could continue to live as if nothing had occurred. Speculators and calculators could make fortunes out of wars. However, seeing clearly the wounds of that time, Zweig, with endless passions and enormous concern for the world¡¯s future, struggled and cried in letters at his full lung as the morality collapsed all of sudden. In this time, people awake suffered and became the wounds in themselves of the time. Zweig was not so much exiled by fascists as by himself. Born in the heaven, he couldn¡¯t put up with the fact that he had fallen to the hell. Being a pacifist, he experienced two world-wide wars. As an intellectual, he saw the culture declining. Nothing can be more unbearable than that to a homeless soul. At last, he discovered Brazil was a paradise where life was serene and peaceful. But it was not his paradise. He once owned several homes, but none of them belonged to him then. In our Chinese terms, he had lost his root. French novelist Prouster once said the only paradise was the paradise that had been lost. His paradise deserted him. His own existence was doubted by himself. The tragedy of ¡°the unbearable lightness of being¡± fell upon him. Therefore, he was so impatient as to follow the trace of the never-never land.
Overall, the book is immersed in an air of nostalgia and pessimism (sometimes it seems to be author¡¯s self-communing), but between lines we still can see author¡¯s pride as an Austrian and excitement in working at artistic creation. His flowery and generous compliments to his intellectual friends impress me much. Through his skillful psychoanalysis and keen insight, his autobiography is a magnificent world displaying the mutual relation between the materialized society and profound inner world, the mentality and the personal behaviors.
Zweig shows us the reflection of the shattering yesterday. Yesterday is history; history is a paradox. On one hand, it helps the next generation grow wiser, but on the other hand, it is repeated again and again just in different forms throughout the history. The paradox of history is the embodiment of humanity¡¯s paradox. What leads to wars? According to Freud, it¡¯s the instinct of aggressiveness. He also points out that instinctual passions are stronger than reasonable interests. The primary mutual hostility of human beings always threatens the civilized society. In daily life people are regulated by morality and laws, but in the war time, killing is justified by the patriotism. The passions that accumulated for the romance of war are vibrating in the chests of people. Then the worst is brought out by the blood and tears from them. Wars accompany peace as shadow accompanies its master.
The World of Yesterday is a story of yesterday. However, we are heading for the future. The so-called civilization has reached its new peak with the full help of technology and science. It¡¯s rather dangerous. It¡¯s so similar to the time before the First World that I begin to worry about the fate of human beings. Some superpowers begin to do things at their own wills.
Stefan Zweig committed suicide before the arrival of Brazil¡¯s next carnival. He was exhausted by the homeless wandering. I believe more that he died to protest the polluted and foul world. Let us remember him, remember his autography¡ªmemory of yesterday.

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