An engineer from a humble background, Ludwig fell in love with his employer’s wife and she with him – before they were separated by circumstances and by war. Now, nine years later, their unfulfilled passion is tested as the two reunite. Can the past, and their happiness, be restored – or have they been forever undone by hardship and betrayal?
I wondered how much I would enjoy another book set around the First World War after recently finishing Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier, I needn’t have worried as I was hooked within the first few pages and was left to revel in the literary goodness for the rest its pages.
Having previously only read Chess by the author, I was expecting another terse effort with well-rounded and strongly realised characters who carried the story and made a strong impact on my imagination. I was not to be disappointed on any of these anticipations.
The backdrop to the story is the First World War and its aftermath. The impact on regular people caught up in those epochal events is something so often reduced to mere statistics, but here its presented in such a gloriously human, flawed, aching and passionate way. Zweig has managed to capture what many authors fail to do, and that is to make believable, fully human characters whom the reader truly cares about.
A lot of themes are explored in this novella, its crammed full of real emotion, at times its intense, thick with desire and longing. These are characters done right. Whilst the plot takes second place to those living through the times, there is always that spectre of the damage done, and the feeling that the world for all has been irrevocably changed.
The impact of reunion, the emotion of the moment and the rediscovery of each other is told between the flashbacks. It allows the characters to grow organically as the story unfolds and the connection with the reader to deepened. The exploration of how time has changed them and the world, and the gentle melancholy of what was lost and what could have been is exceptionally well done.
The conclusion was suitably strong, and although this wasn’t a long book, it was well worth the wait to be able to discover what happened to the protagonists. Journey to the Past is a story of longing and belonging, a novella which I will return to one day to once again indulge in the journey as much as the conclusion. Superb!