In 1941, the popular Austrian Jewish writer, Stefan Zweig, with his young wife, Lotte Altmann, went into hiding from the Nazis in Brazil, where less than six months later they committed suicide in a final act of despair. The Perfection of Things is a novel that opens in February of 2004 in the Brazilian town of Petrópolis where a dying American biographer, Adam Ribeira, has been living in a last, desperate effort to complete a critical biography of Zweig, which he has been writing in frustration and anguish for nearly twenty years. Working by day in a rented apartment directly overlooking the now-empty house in which Zweig and his wife committed suicide, and by night inside the house itself, into which he sneaks the moment it is dark, the narrator struggles, once and for all, to grasp the tangled implications of Zweig and his times, a realization that finally compels him to act.
Part fiction, part biography of Zweig, part critical inquiry into the scope and limitations of biography itself, the novel explores what for many is the essential impossibility of truly knowing another human being. Framed in the form of a letter to the narrator's estranged son in Israel, in the form of a tzevaah, a Jewish ethical will, the story is also a meditation on contemporary life—on racism, exile, and war. Binding the tale together is the perennially bewitching idea of perfection and its place in the human heart.
“Assured, yet tantalizingly elusive, Peter Nash writes a narrator’s odyssey through the last days of Stefan Zweig’s life. Enigmatically poetic, the ghost of Zweig and the living narrator move apart, then together, then breathtakingly apart again . . . a captivating story of two complex lives.”
—Michele Zackheim, author of The Last Train to Paris and Violette’s Embrace
“Ranging widely over the cultural history of the twentieth century, with light-handed fluency and a dreamy fluidity, Nash has created a moving tribute to the sensibility of Stefan Zweig that reminds us of the vulnerability of our own world visions.”
—George Prochnik, author of The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World and Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem