Twenty-four hours in the Life of a Woman and The Royal Game
Stefan Zweig
ISBN: 9781901285611
Publisher: Pushkin Press R135,96
Exclusive Books: R195,00

 Two novellas by German author Zweig. And they seem incredibly well translated.

 Twenty-four hours is quite simply a story a woman tells a listener (and the readers) of 24 hours of her life in which she behaved rather uncharacteristically. The story really is rather simple but it is so beautifully written and so engaging that i read the novella in one sitting. Not a huge task, but considering all the other demands i have right now, an accolade to the writing.

 The tale is actually about addiction and passion; deceit of others and of the self; hope and foolhardiness; and ultimately, about the separateness of us all. It’s about one woman’s hope that she could make a difference and her realisation that perhaps none of us can; about how society dictates and may not always be right. And about how the constraints of society, while exhilarating to flaunt, are almost impossible to truly escape.

 While these are always arresting themes in a book, what makes this story so much more valuable is that this novella was first published in 1944, but Zweig died in ’42 so it was probably written in the 30s. Progressive thinker he was in the creation of his protagonist.

 The Royal Game is, predictably, about chess.  Or so it seems. Again, the story starts and seems to be about one thing and then isn’t. In this novella, a dim-witted idiot savant is discovered to be a chess genius. The story diverges from him when the narrator encounters him on a ship and tries to arrange an accidental meeting over a chess board. And so is introduced perhaps the ‘real’ story of the novella. Or perhaps not. It’s hard to decide.

 This story raises the question of the difference between pride and a self-destructive inability to lose, obsession and addiction, single mindedness and monomania. It looks at chess as a motif for the ways in which we construct and conduct our lives; and the ways in which others, more powerful, do that for us.

 Interesting stuff and also a hugely readable and engaging story.

 I also really love the way this man writes – in some ways it is so old fashioned as to be a breath of fresh air.

 ‘Visitors who had come to see their friends scurried hither and thither, page boys with caps smartly cocked slithered through the public rooms shouting names snappily,…’

 I loved both of these novellas and am glad to found Zwieg.