The stories in this volume, though varied in locale, subject, style and inspiration, share a unique distinction: all were written by recipients of the most coveted award in the world of letters, the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Stories which not only appeal to modern tastes but which also represent authors and their period are included in this volume. These stories, like all great literature, reveal the individual artist coming to grips with life in terms of the creative and thinking human being. Several of them are notable for the way they bring focus upon man as a creature of feeling and vision searching for a dimly-remembered dream, crying out the anguish of a soul crushed by its own will, looking into the heart of light — or darkness — when the veil is twitched away for a moment, reflecting the life of the mind and the promptings of the spirit.
The themes are as varied as the recipients of the award and cover a vast spectrum of emotion, ideals, moods, settings, characterization. Included are stories by Kipling, Yeats, Anatole France, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Sinclair Lewis, Pirandello, Par Lagerkvist, Albert Camus, Boris Pasternak, Francois Mauriac, Faulkner, Selma Lagerlof — the first woman to win the prize — Knut Hamsun, Ivan Bunin, Roger Martin Du Gard, Herman Hesse. Each story is preceded by a biographical sketch of the author and the editors provide an introduction in which they trace the history of the Nobel Prize. This is as diverse an offering as could be imagined, and definitely one of my best buys so far.
Each of the stories reflects poignancy and a depth; with some being a moving tale of passionate love, some are subtle humor, some cold revenge while some resonate ethereal thoughts. The Father by Bjornsterne Bjornse in a few beautiful pages summarizes the endless love and affection of a father towards his son. Selma Lagerlof paints a grim story of two outlaws united by a dark past in the story The Outlaws. From crime to resurrection, friendship to enmity, religion to occult the description is both haunting and mesmerizing. Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Was left me smirking away all the way and earned me glances everywhere. The closure to this funny piece was spellbinding. So was another amusing story The Miraculous Revenge by George Bernard Shaw.
Hermen Hesse’s Within and Without, one of my favorites in this collection, is a masterpiece of duality, an exploration of the conflict between scientific rationality and faith. To quote a line from this story, “Summon up the past, summon up the future: both are in you! Until today you have been the slave of the within. Learn to be its master. That is magic.” There is a story The Massacre of the Innocents by Maurice Maeterlinck which left me desolate. It is a melancholic and brutal description of the ruthless killing of children ordered by King Herod during the birth of Christ. I had no hint of this until the end.
At the end of most of the stories the same thoughts surfaced in my mind — “no wonder this author won the Nobel Prize.” This collection has stories penned by the greatest authors of all times and has opened a new dimension to my reading list.