NYRB Classics continues to set the standard for publishing long-lost treasures. Its latest release is of particular note: The Post-Office Girl is the first English translation (by Joel Rotenberg) of Rausch der Verwandlung (trans: â€œThe Ecstasy of Transformation”). This novel was found among Zweig’s papers after he and his wife committed suicide in Brazil during World War Two and only published in the original German in 1982.
The novel tells the story of Christine Hoflehner, a postal clerk in a small Austrian town: 25, but already on her way to become a career fonctionnaire:
Her hand with its pale fingers will raise and lower the same rattly wicket thousands upon thousands of times more, will toss hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of letters onto the cancelling desk with the same swiveling motion, will slam the blackened brass canceller onto hundreds of thousands or millions of stamps with the same brief thump.
Then, out of the blue, she gets an invitation to join a wealthy aunt in Switzerland. She’s exposed to money, glamor, fashion, society … and then sent back home. As an old tune from World War One put it, “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm, After They’ve Seen Paree?” Well, as Zweig shows with his typically bitterly realistic touch, you can’t … but neither can Christine just leap over the walls of income, expenses, class boundaries, social mores. You’ll have to buy a copy of the book yourself to find out how it ends. And you probably don’t even need the publisher’s cheap-shot description of the novel as “Cinderella meets Bonnie and Clyde” to entice you, if you’re a fellow lover of fine neglected books.