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The World of Yesterday

Memoirs of a European
Narrated by: David Horovitch
Length: 17 hrs and 50 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (88 ratings)

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Summary

Stefan Zweig's memoir, The World of Yesterday, recalls the golden age of prewar Europe - its seeming permanence, its promise and its devastating fall with the onset of two world wars. Zweig's passionate, evocative prose paints a stunning portrait of an era that danced brilliantly on the brink of extinction. It is an unusually humane account of Europe from the closing years of the 19th century through to World War II, seen through the eyes of one of the most famous writers of his era. Zweig's books (novels, biographies, essays) were translated into numerous languages, and he moved in the highest literary circles; he also encountered many leading political and social figures of his day.

The World of Yesterday is a remarkable, totally engrossing history. This translation by the award-winning Anthea Bell captures the spirit of Zweig's writing in arguably his most important work, completed shortly before his tragic death in 1942. It is read with sympathy and understanding by David Horovitch.

©1942 Fischer Verlag. 2011 Anthea Bell (translation) (P)2017 Ukemi Productions Ltd

Critic reviews

"One of the greatest memoirs of the twentieth century." (David Hare)
"Zweig's celebration of the brotherhood of peoples reminds us that there is another way." ( The Nation)
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A fascinating memoir

Beautifully written, Zweig covers the forty years between his teenage life in Vienna and the outbreak of the second world war.
Sometimes a detailed social history of the time, sometimes a political comment on various European countries and their governments, sometimes an extraordinary window into his cultural world of famous friends, this is a long book but it is never dull. The social mores of turn of the century Vienna encompass such details as womens' fashion and are sympathetic insights into the remarkable changes which followed the Great War. His thoughts on fellow artists: poets, musicians, playwrights, are fascinating, as is his passionate belief in a united Europe. At this time of Brexit, with political upheavals worldwide, it is inevitable to draw historic parallels with erstwhile political ideologies.

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a perceptive eye on a period in history.

The period from the late 19th century to the second World War. As seen and lived by a European, Austrian intellectual. Thoroughly relevant to modern times.

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The Reality of Europe through two world wars brought to life

For me this brought to life the world of my parents and their experiences. It’s is a brilliant piece of writing and it made me feel as though I had lived through the times he describes.

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The Brink of Destruction


This memoir of Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) is another of Ukemi’s treasures. Zweig was the most important writer of his day writing in German, but his work was banned by the Nazis. Translated into English, his memoir The World of Yesterday was rescued by the Pushkin Press only within the last ten years. The translation by Anthea Bell (who concludes this beautifully sympathetic, exactly right narration by David Horovitch) is what a first class translation should be: it’s as though this is just how Zweig wrote it.

Zweig’s world of yesterday is the ‘golden age of security’ of the Austro Hungarian Empire in which he grew up, a wonderful time for Viennese high culture of music, opera, art and conversation provided mainly by Jewish intellectuals, a world Zweig creates in all it richness. As a child he met Brahms, looked on actors as supernatural beings and was fired with a passion for ‘things of the mind.’

His musings over the changing mores as time passed have a universal appeal. Growing up, women of his class were chastely swathed from head to foot, always chaperoned, and bridegrooms would have no idea of what was underneath – a purity which existed alongside thriving and rampant prostitution. Later women cut their hair, discarded their corsets, played tennis and, even if some did have stones thrown at them for doing so, rode bicycles. The insights he gives into his own writing explain the slimness of his novels: he wanted to intensify the ‘inner architecture’ of his writing, to know more than he showed, to hone and omit. A good lesson for writers to absorb.

The memoir is filled with vignettes of great names, from Gorky, Yeats and Strauss to Rilke, Ravel and Valéry– and a host of other Europeans I’d never heard of and are now, as Zweig says, mainly forgotten. His portrait of Freud is a real person, suffering but determined as he neared death; with James Joyce he discusses German and Italian translations of words from Ulysses. His treasured collections included the quill pen and candlestick of his greatest icon, Goethe. He travelled widely, from Paris to America and even in India, observing and analysing with telling detail, as when he describes the peasants doffing their caps before artworks in the Hermitage in Leningrad.

But ‘great evil swept over humanity’ with the onset of WW1, after which he returned to a Salzburg in his ‘poor plundered unhappy country’ where everything was either ‘broken or stolen’ and hyperinflation raged: squirrel for Sunday lunch, frozen potatoes, trousers made of old sacks, treasured possessions sold in markets. But he noted too how real value was found in friendship, art and music. His final heartbreak was the start of the rise of Nazi Germany with its systematic destruction of all that he held dear in humanity and the loss of his hopes for a unified Europe. These were horrors enough, but he didn’t live to see the worst.

The history in this memoir is all too familiar, but Zweig’s telling makes it fresh and new. The World of Yesterday is a unique listening experience.

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Great narration, good book, excellent translation

The narrator is very good, and I liked the way he included footnotes.

The book itself is good. Fascinating stories about what life was like in Vienna and the many eminent people Zweig knew. He speaks to us very directly in Anthea Bell’s clear and natural translation and it feels contemporary, though at times naïve. There are some resonances with today’s world and I wondered, is the EU today’s version of the Austro-Hungarian empire - secure, benevolent, tolerant and under attack by Fascism?

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Highly recommended

So good I bought a hard copy for my mum -who also loved it.
Its starts by giving us a fascinating glimpse into the world pre-WWI (namely the old Austrian Empire), opposition during the war, and the build up to WWII. I kept noticed many similarities with the world today, more than once I had to remind myself that the book is over 70 years old.
A great listen/read and worryingly relevant.

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A beautiful and harrowing view of the late 19th and early 20th century.

This is a truly wonderful book. It explores the Europe of the late 19th century and how cultural and marvellous if was, until plunged onto war in the early 29th century. I have learnt so much about how Europe was by Zweig’s flowing and indulgent narrative. The pure horrors of war are discussed with careful accuracy but what really shines out is one man’s love of Europe and, for me, highlights our mistake in wanting to leave it.

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an extraordinary insight into a man and his time

a wonderfull story, beautiful written and ofgreatest actuality at present times. An insight into working ofcreative mind and a fascinating epoch.

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  • Sully
  • 04-06-17

More Zweig please

A compelling memoir. I would love to see a collection of stories, his novellas and more of his non fiction available on audible.

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  • none
  • 25-06-17

Lucidity whilst Civilization reverts to barbarism

Zweig conveys Within his memoir a rational observation ofHitlers rape upon civilization thereby rendering categorical destruction that became known as The Final Solution. Zweig' s first hand experience reveals to us the reader both a minds journey into Diaspora partnered with literal flight from his homeland, Austria and the threatening clouds of war encumbered once again what has been the Jewish burden since Moses lead his people out of Egypt. Calm and collected I walked with Zweig as he spoke the inner world of a man in the act of losing all held in highest priority to be truly civilized and autonomous. I am a better person now for having read this account. I am sincerely grateful for his effort in gifting posterity so we and future generations have a light on to see the signs of moral decay and respond with either pen or mobilization against Evil.

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  • Michael S.
  • 14-01-19

My first audio book... what an experience

I tried this book after reading an article about it in The New Yorker. I later realized that the article addressed only one aspect of the book, the lead up to WWII.

As described to a friend: "Highly recommended! It was my first audio book, and I'd suggest that format. For me, it was like listening to that rare old relative who led a fascinating life AND knows how to tell a story. Art, politics, history..."

It's hard to imagine better narrator for this work; I was totally immersed.

Note that the memoir is mostly told chronologically, and I encourage you to stick with it if you find the early parts about his childhood to be slow-going. Trust me, it s worth it.

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  • W Perry Hall
  • 24-02-18

Abounding Beauty then Utter Sadness


An inimitably enriching, terrifically enthralling literary memoir of Stefan Zweig, an Austrian writer who was the world's most popular in the 1930s until he was forced by increasing Nazi pressure to flee continental Europe in 1934 and emigrate to England, the United States and ultimately Brazil.

Zweig's gorgeous descriptions and memories sweep the reader into the Hapsburg empire of the early 20th Century. He vividly captures the aesthetics, sophisticated culture, art and beauty of Vienna at the time. It's like a dreamscape in homage to his homeland.

Zweig then drops the reader into a palpable simulation of the fear and utter disbelief one would feel to be a world-famous author who is forced to abandon his home and homeland and run for his life simply because he was born Jewish.

Highly recommended.

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  • Michael Greenstein
  • 18-02-19

A beautifully rendered account of pre/post Europe

I read a short story of Stefan Zweig in German in college. I was floored by the beauty of the language, the superb phrasing. It gave me a new respect of translators who have a thankless job trying to match the beauty of their native language into English. So before listening to this book, I felt I already found an intimacy with Stefan. This book did not disappoint. He brings the world of Europe into close contact. His friends and acquaintances become breathing individuals. You enter a world of yesteryear. He helps you understand a time you only vaguely knew.

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  • william
  • 13-01-18

History brought to life and feeling!

This is remarkable! Through his eyes we see Europe at the end of the nineteenth century up until the Second World War. More importantly human nature at its best and worst. Self deception fueled by a hope for peace enables the worst of our species to destroy people , culture and civilization (a way of life).Given what is happening in our country this book
Could be written today,about today. I had nightmares! The human nature or should I say lack of it remains a threat to existence!

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-01-18

What a loss

Stefan Zweig was one of the great literary minds and social observers of the 20th century and deserves to be better known than he is.

His description of prewar Europe is better than anything that I’ve ever read in a textbook and although one might quibble over the details the affection for the culture and the fear that it is being destroyed are unforgettable. I wish that he had it given up on Europe and on himself.

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  • LopLop
  • 08-10-19

mixed feelings

The focus of this book is the world of the intellectual elite, about which Zweig has a rare and keen sensibility. Despite his sensitivity to the moral fate of humanity during this time, I found him to come off a bit arrogant, probably because of his privileged place in society. I am sure this was not his intention, but his descriptions of the lower classes (e.g. Russian peasants, laborers) sounded accidentally condescending. I agree with most of the 3-star reviews on Goodreads. I think the book is often long-winded and his perspective is often subjective. It merges memoir with history, but not necessarily in a good way.

The narrator could not have been better! 5-stars for narration.

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  • Sebastian Hosu
  • 27-12-18

An amasing portrait of an unsuspecting generation.

let's get the first thing out of the way. The narrator is excellent! There are footnotes added to the narration. They help flesh out the context. The short note of the translator at the end is also very wolcome and it answers a central question I was asking myself throughout the book in relation to Zweig's suicide.

The book itself is marvellous! A beautiful, if heardbreaking, portrait of a generation (and a class within it) which were too idealistic to foresee the horrors thay lay in store.

The simple persistence in the wake of the disasters of war and hate shows the courage certain individuals had to stand up for decency and friendship while the world around them descended into madness.

This book shows how sometimes the most sensitive of souls can manifest the greatest sort of bravery: staying true to your humanity.

by no means is this book only about war and standing up to it, howecer. It is also about Europe, colourful individuals, women's emancipation, mass ideologies, Jewish identity, class society, travels, civil liberties and the creative process.

Stefan Zweig left us a great before he tragically decided to end his life in 1942. It is the story of his remarkable life in remarkable times!

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  • Gordon
  • 29-10-18

Insightful!

Since Zweig actually lived in Vienna, he is fantastically insightful into the goings on of totalitarian take overs of smaller countries.
This is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read.
I’ve read many other of Zweigs books And so I’m not surprised at his master full descriptions of his home country and the countries he moves to to escape Hitler.

1 person found this helpful