The novel is set in the aftermath of the First World War in Austria: The Austro-Hungarian Empire is no more and for the average citizen life is tough with high prices and shortages.
The post office girl of the title is Christine, a twenty-something postmistress in a remote village miles from Vienna. She leads a life of routine, of penny-pinching economies, supporting her widowed mother: she has never been in love nor even had a boyfriend.
Out of the blue she is given the opportunity by wealthy American relatives to spend a fortnight with them in a grand hotel in Switzerland, all expenses paid. In a Cinderella-like fashion they supply her with fine new clothes (so that neither she nor they are shown up), pay for her to have a more flattering hair-do etc. She is soon transformed from a gauche young woman to a confident one, excited by the admiring looks of men, by fine dining, by luxury.
But Zweig is not a writer of romances: even before the end of Part One we know that no white knight will sweep her off her feet and take her from a life of drudgery.
Part Two is much darker in tone. And unfortunately, without giving the plot away, the writing is less good: whereas in Part One the descriptions were powerful and alive with great psychological insights, Part Two is worthy but rather boring: there are great long sections of declamatory speech by Ferdinand who she has met in Vienna, a confused embittered radical.
Only when I read the afterword did I realise why the book wasn’t published until 1982, forty years after the author’s suicide.