Gruesome black thriller set in Sweden
Tante Jolesch or The Decline of the West in Anecdotes
Era(s): Early 20th century
Already a much loved classic in Austria, “Tante Jolesch or the Decline of the West in Anecdotes” is Friedrich Torberg’s tribute to the Jewish coffee-house world that flourished in Vienna in the afterglow of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until its final collapse in 1938. Based on Torberg’s personal memories of intellectuals and eccentrics of the time, including Egon Friedell, Fritz Grunbaum, Egon Erwin Kisch, Alfred Polgar, and Franz Werfel, this work evokes the storytelling and humour prominent among Vienna’s coffee-house denizens. These anecdotes allow one to see into the lives of assimilated Jews before the Shoah, beginning in the living room of Tante Jolesch, revolving around the coffee-house, and extending to summer resorts, sports matches, dinner parties, a psychiatric clinic under the care of Sigmund Freud, and the office of a U.S. consular official in charge of granting visas to the United States.In this volume, Torberg builds a literary monument to a group of people, a time, and a culture of which he saw himself as one of the last representatives. Despite being one of the most prominent Austrian literary figures of the twentieth century, Friedrich Torberg is not well known in the English-speaking world. He joined the literary elite of pre-war Austria at the age of twenty-two, but his career was cut short by the Nazi ban on Jewish writers. Invited by the New York PEN Club as one of ‘ten outstanding German anti-Nazi writers’, Torberg was able to flee to the United States where he wrote screenplays and articles for German-language newspapers. In 1951, Torberg returned to Vienna, where he became a journalist, critic, and translator. In 1979, he received the Austrian State Prize for Literature.
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