With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson has ushered in a little Renaissance in the appreciation of Stefan Zweig. To get a sense of how much Anderson’s film is indebted to Zweig, watch this video of Tom Wilkinson, playing his character from the movie, as he reads verbatim from Zweig’s memoir.
Oops, I meant to say—this is a list of the 10 best ways to experience Stefan Zweig’s influence on The Grand Budapest Hotel, and that video was #1. Wilkinson is reading from a selection of Zweig’s writing that appears in The Society of the Crossed Keys, a book that Wes Anderson edited himself (although the title is a nod to one of Anderson’s inventions in the movie.) That book is only for sale in the UK. Fools! But I ordered it anyway, and you can too, if you pay a little extra to ship it from Britain. Score! The Society of the Crossed Keys is #2 on our list. If you don’t like the idea of purchasing a book online with pounds sterling, then start by reading this great little excerpt (#3) and the interview between Wes Anderson and George Prochnik that opens the book (#4).
Speaking of George Prochnik, he’s the author of a new biography of Stefan Zweig, which tells the incredible story of a man who was world famous in his own time, forgotten until recently, and arguably more principled and intelligent than anybody else in the 20th century. The biography is called The Impossible Exile, and it’s #8 on our list. But before you buy it, check out this excerpt, this interview with Prochnik, and this Vimeo about the biography, which are #s 5, 6, and 7, respectively. (You thought I forgot and skipped to Number 8, didn’t you?)
Finally, explore the back catalog of Stefan Zweig’s books, which have been courageously kept in print by NYRB Classics and Pushkin Press—#9 and #10 on our list. Without these publishers, people like Anderson wouldn’t be discovering writers like Zweig in the first place, and we wouldn’t have this amazing list to share with you. Quelle horreur!
Caution! Do not read Michael Hofmann’s bravura takedown of Stefan Zweig in the London Review of Books unless you are a natural born hater, or you’re looking for something contrarian to say at your next dinner party. (Sample passage: “Stefan Zweig just tastes fake. He’s the Pepsi of Austrian writing.”)
Bonus item! George Prochnik is married to New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead (it’s a small world) and her book about Middlemarch (written by another George) is, by all accounts, spectacular. So go ahead and read that 800-page novel, too. Maybe Wes Anderson’s next film will be based on the works of George Eliot.
– Brian Hurley