The Impossible Exile | Granta

  • Published: 03/09/2015
  • ISBN: 9781783781164
  • 129x20mm
  • 416 pages

The Impossible Exile

George Prochnik

By the 1930s, Stefan Zweig, born to an affluent Jewish family in Vienna, had become the most widely translated living author in the world. His novels, short stories, and biographies became instant bestsellers, and his cultural patronage, his generosity, and his literary connections, were legendary. In 1934, following Hitler’s rise to power, Zweig left Vienna for England, then New York, and, finally, Petrópolis, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro. With the destruction of the cultural milieu of pre-Nazi Europe, Zweig’s life in exile became increasingly isolated. In 1942 he and his wife, Lotte Altmann, were found dead. They had committed suicide, just after Zweig had completed his famous autobiography, The World of Yesterday.

The Impossible Exile tells the mesmerizing and tragic story of Zweig’s extraordinary rise and fall, the gulf between the world of ideas in Europe and in America, and the alienation of the refugees forced into exile. Zweig embodied and witnessed the end of an era: the great Central European civilization of Vienna and Berlin.

Prochnik's portrait could hardly be bettered


A different approach to understanding Zweig has long been needed, and now at last we have it... Brilliantly accomplished

John Gray, New Statesman

With vast scholarship and a light touch, an incisive eye for the telling anecdote and a poignant reflection of his family's immigrant legacy, Prochnik illuminates every place and time he glances at

New Yorker

The Author

George Prochnik was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in general non-fiction in 2021. He has written for publications such as the New Yorker and the LA Review of Books, and is the editor-at-large for Cabinet magazine. ‘Talk America’ is an edited excerpt from I Dream with Open Eyes, forthcoming from Counterpoint Press. His books with Granta include Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem, which was shortlisted for the Wingate Prize and was a New York Times ‘Editor’s Choice’.

More about the author →

From the Same Author

Stranger in a Strange Land

George Prochnik

Gershom Scholem, the great humanist thinker and founder of modern Kabalah, is all but forgotten today. But here, in a biography as daring and inquisitive as its subject, George Prochnik goes in search of Scholem, restoring the reputation of a vital intellectual and finding in his work a vision with the power to reinvigorate contemporary religious and political thought.

Tracing Scholem’s life from his upbringing in Berlin, where he experienced a close and transformative friendship with Walter Benjamin, Prochnik reveals how Scholem’s frustration with the bourgeois ideology of Germany during WWI led him to discover mystic Judaism, Kabbalah, and, finally, Zionism. But having emigrated to what was to become Israel, Scholem again found himself a ‘stranger in a strange land’, ill at ease with a prevailing conservative form of Zionism.

Prochnik follows Scholem to the modern Holy Land – only to find that he too is disillusioned by the state politics he encounters. But through his profound study of Scholem and his own experience of Jerusalem, Prochnik not only questions the ideological and religious constructs of Jerusalem, but finds an ethical way forward, showing how a new form of pluralism might energize Jewish thought.

George Prochnik on

Essays & Memoir | Granta 160

Talk America

George Prochnik

An excerpt from George Prochnik’s forthcoming memoir.