The Royal Game & Other Stories

by Stefan Zweig

Hardcover, 1981





New York : Harmony Books, c1981.

User reviews

LibraryThing member phebj
I had never heard of Stefan Zweig and have LT members to thank for recommending this book.

Zweig was born in Vienna in 1881 to wealthy parents and became a poet, translator, biographer and novelist. His life ended dramatically when he and his wife committed suicide in Brazil in 1942 after being distraught over the increasing power of the Nazis in Europe.

The Royal Game (or Chess Story) was the last thing he wrote. The other stories in this collection are: Amok, The Burning Secret, Fear, and Letter From An Unknown Woman. For the most part, they are all stories of obsession (e.g., "chess-poisoning") or mental cat and mouse games where you're not always sure who's the cat and who's the mouse. There is a feverish quality to all the stories which I really got caught up in.

My favorite was probably Letter From An Unknown Woman about a famous novelist who receives a letter in an unknown handwriting addressed only "To you who never really knew me." There is no return address and no signature. It turns out to be a letter from a woman who has loved the novelist since she was 13 years old. "Nothing on earth equals the unseen, hidden love of a child, because it is so without hope, so servile, so submissive, so observant and intense, as the covetous and unconciously demanding love of a grown woman never is." (p. 223) The writer of the letter is now an adult who fears she may be dying of influenza and wants the novelist to know how much she loved him. "You'll receive this testament from me only when I'm dead--from one who loved you more than anyone else and whom you didn't recognise; from one who always waited for you but for whom you never sent." (p. 249) The big question is will the novelist figure out who sent the letter.

Another one I really liked was The Burning Secret. It's about a sickly, young boy recuperating at a resort with his mother whose boring days suddenly change with the arrival of a fascinating young bachelor on vacation who takes an interest in him. The boy's "face didn't altogether lack good looks but its character was as yet unformed. The battle between manhood and childhood seemed scarcely to have begun." (p. 103) The bachelor turns out to be an aristocratic baron who has hunted elephants in India and who is also a "woman hunter." The story is about what happens when it dawns on the boy that the bachelor is really interested in his mother, not him.

I'm giving this book 4 1/2 stars. I really enjoyed the stories but they are similar in tone and I would recommend reading them one at time with a break in between. They're all about 50 pages long and I'd make sure you had time to read each story straight through because once you start, you'll want to know how it ends.
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LibraryThing member alexdaw
Well I think I liked this more than Twenty-four Hours in the Life of a Woman - although they are of course completely different subjects...or are they???? I think Zweig is interested in the human condition...and what IS the human condition, I hear you ask? Well, speaking as a mere human, who has not studied psychology or Freud or anything like that...for me ... the conundrum of human existence is that we often know better, but we don't....or we supposedly have access to rationality of thought but are subject to our whims or passion. Why, for example, every year do I firmly avow that I will lose weight, that I won't drink so much wine of an evening and yet...and yet....those enticing strawberry tartlets....that enticing glass of wine...or two....This next story from Zweig takes us on board a liner (ooh how I dream of travelling on a liner). Ooh how wonderful to not have to think of anything but the next game of chess or bridge.....or perhaps not? Travelling on the liner is Mirko Czentovic, the world chess champion. Mirko, despite his prowess at chess, to all intents and purposes is a social oaf - maybe even a cultural cretin. Our unnamed narrator declares a fascination with "monomania, by persons wrapped up in a single idea..." and sets out to snare the champion into a game or several games so he can "examine this speciment of one-track intellect under a magnifying glass." And so follows a study of all sorts of conundrums....can chess be called just a game? Can it be played alone? What is the difference between amateur and professional? Is obsession unhealthy? I don't want to give too much away but this is so much more than a story about playing by the's about playing to live or indeed, to survive.… (more)
LibraryThing member MSarki
Overall a very enjoyable experience. Every story a literal telling that was done masterfully. Though I typically enjoy a less literal work, Zweig can make you read on, and for that I am grateful, and also quite glad he has been rediscovered and getting his proper due.



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