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chuntzy

Beware of Pity

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This novel, written in 1937, is set in the Austro-Hungarian Empire shortly before the First World War.

 

A young officer is invited to a soiree at the local schloss. He asks the host’s young daughter to dance and thereby inadvertently sets in train a sequence of events and, more importantly, a psychological struggle in the young man trying to cope with feelings of pity that threaten both psychologically and practically to take over his life. This ‘pity’ is for him relentlessly cruel in the way that it buffets him this way and that.

 

The story is well grounded in the backdrop of a small garrison town, where the officer’s cavalry unit is based, a few hours train journey from Vienna. As readers we know what will befall much of that old Empire’s army and that lends a certain poignancy to descriptions of the life of the young officers both on and off the parade ground.

 

The author succeeded in making me feel so involved in all the shifting emotions, not just of the young lieutenant, but of the other main characters as well. I was glad that that this novel has been reissued.

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This is a magnificent work by an author I had never previously heard of but apparently was the best selling author in the world in the late 1930s. His brilliant prose draws you in until one is emotionally drained and desperate for a resolution of the crisis. I would compare him with Tolstoy and Henry James, and he makes Graham Greene seem like an amateur in comparison. Also, all credit to the translator, the brilliant Anthea Bell.

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Just a bit of trivia to add - apparently former England football manager, Roy Hodgson, was asked how he dealt with the stress of his former job. He said it was through reading - and the book he was reading during the last championships was this one! (Hopefully it helped him see that there are fates worse than being sacked as England football manager!)

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I've ordered this on my tablet.  I will let you know when I read it.  Based on the almost 2 years that it took me to read Ghost River, that may not be right away.  But it sounds great.

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