The Post-Office Girl
by Stefan Zweig, translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg
2009 PEN Translation Prize Finalist
The logic of capitalism, boom and bust, is unremitting and unforgiving. But what happens to human feeling in a completely commodified world? In The Post-Office Girl, Stefan Zweig, a deep analyst of the human passions, lays bare the private life of capitalism.
Christine toils in a provincial post office in post–World War I Austria, a country gripped by unemployment. Out of the blue, a telegram arrives from Christine’s rich American aunt inviting her to a resort in the Swiss Alps. Christine is immediately swept up into a world of inconceivable wealth and unleashed desire. She feels herself utterly transformed: nothing is impossible. But then, abruptly, her aunt cuts her loose. Christine returns to the post office, where yes, nothing will ever be the same.
Christine meets Ferdinand, a bitter war veteran and disappointed architect, who works construction jobs when he can get them. They are drawn to each other, even as they are crushed by a sense of deprivation, of anger and shame. Work, politics, love, sex: everything is impossible for them. Life is meaningless, unless, through one desperate and decisive act, they can secretly remake their world from within.
Cinderella meets Bonnie and Clyde in Zweig’s haunting and hard-as-nails novel, completed during the 1930s, as he was driven by the Nazis into exile, but left unpublished at the time of his death. The Post-Office Girl, available here for the first time in English, transforms our image of a modern master’s achievement.
An exhilarating ski run of poverty, joy and misery...it is the girl's ecstatic naivety and Zweig's sparkling prose that makes the old stories so sweetly fresh and, when the whole dream collapses, so devastatingly sad.
— The Sunday Times (UK)
In The Post-Office Girl Stefan Zweig explores the details of everyday life in language that pierces both brain and heart...The story is poignant, painful, and must be one of fiction's darkest indictments of how poverty destroys hope, enjoyment, beauty, brightness and laughter, and how money, no matter how falsely, provides ease and delight.
— The Spectator (UK)
This is a fascinating depiction of the effects of history on individual lives.
— The Financial Times
Stefan Zweig was a late and magnificent bloom from the hothouse of fin de siecle Vienna...The posthumous publication of a Zweig novel affords an opportunity to revisit this gifted writer...The Post-Office Girl is captivating.
— The Wall Street Journal
...nowhere else in his fiction does Zweig confront the legacy of the Great War with as deep a social reach or as detailed a human sympathy as he does in The Post-Office GirlWe are lucky to have the book, not only for its devastating picture of postwar Austrian life but also because it represents so radical a departure from Zweig's other fiction as to signal the existence of a hitherto unsuspected literary personality...
— William Deresiewicz, The Nation