Journey into the Past
By Stefan Zweig
Translated by Anthea Bell
Pushkin Press, June 2009
How time transforms love; how love resists change; that tension is pretty much what Stefan Zweig’s novella is all about.
It opens at a railway station where a man and a woman, slightly older than him, meet after an absence of a decade or more. If love can persist and prosper, surely theirs can; and while on the train – the couple are journeying to a quiet little town where they’ll take a hotel room – the man recalls how it all began.
In many respects, this is a typical Zweig yarn: there is passion and psychological complexity and tensions which become more tortuous and stark as events come to a head. Oh, and as for the novella’s structure there are some pleasant to-and-fro time shifts. One take-home message might be: there’s a window when love can find fulfilment, but after that matters become decidedly dodgy. However, there is also an extraordinary moment when the lovers come across a group of Nazi thugs: ‘They marched in a throng – they might have been propelled forward by a fist keeping time.’ By no means your normal Zweig scene, this one, though it is powerful and prescient nonetheless.
Stefan Zweig apparently began to write Journey into the Past in the mid 1920s, and indeed part of it was actually published in 1929, but it only came out in its present, completed form (in German, naturally) in 1976. Now we have this rediscovered gem in a masterly English translation by the highly accomplished Anthea Bell. The prose is pretty much perfect, except for what looks like an omission on page 71 (‘and loud voices were raised all the streets’) and a typo on page 86 (‘to give force to what he as about to say’).
An excellent read.