The true story of two of the twentieth century’s great writers and a coterie of artists, intellectuals, drunks, revolutionaries, and madmen who found themselves in limbo while Europe teetered on the edge of fascism and total war.
The beauty of the writing is such that a narrative is hardly necessary, but Ostend has just enough of one. It’s about a feverish gathering of anti-fascist intellectuals in the summer of 1936. Civil war is erupting in Spain; Nazi Germany is preparing for its showcase Olympics. Hitler and Mussolini are coming to seem unstoppable. The book is brimming with harbingers and portent.
I enjoyed getting lost in the book’s melodies, but I also found its airiness dissatisfying in places; I longed for sharp analysis where there was only atmosphere. The first few chapters and subtitle both suggest that the book will be about the friendship between Zweig and Roth, as complicated a relationship as one might imagine. But their story fades from view until the end of the book.
The kinds of readers who loved A Moveable Feast or Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories will find much to like in Ostend ... a melancholy evocation of a group of people and an era on the verge of being swept away forever.