The Burning Secret is a coming of age story, about a young boy, who wishes to be seen as an adult, as someone who belongs in the society that his unhappy mother frequents. The story also follows his mother and how she navigates between her desires and her social obligations.
What struck me from the start was the brilliance of Zweig’s writing. There is something so precise about it like he measures every sentence like every paragraph fulfills a purpose with surgical precision. But that surgical precision is not cold or distant but warm and beautiful. He writes on three different levels or in three distinct ways. There are beautiful vivid descriptions, trying to turn his ideas into a film in your mind. The second part is the psychological insight into his characters. That is something that I enjoy. The inner part of someone’s being is a secret well kept and only in writing can truly know it. The third and final level is his ability to crystallize some experience or wisdom and relate it as a Eureka! moment for the character, but also his audience.
This novella made me more open-minded about the approach and watching or reading more coming of age stuff. It took the genre and made it its own. The majority of my experiences with coming of age felt formulaic. There are a group of friends, love is involved, there are triangles or other love tied geometric shapes. And there is pain and trauma. But this book looks at how completely alien the act of adults do seem to a child that is on the verge of entering their world. There are lies, there is deceit, and most of all hypocrisy. In the world of adults, nothing is as it seems, and that is one lesson our protagonist learns towards the end.
A married woman who has to choose and define herself with a single social role struggles between femininity and motherhood
It is easy to dismiss his mother as an unfaithful, cowardly attempt of a flirt or mistress. But I feel pity for her. She isn’t happy in her marriage. It is also clear that she is torn between her motherhood and her femininity. She loves being desired, loves the feeling of awe she struck in people with just one glance towards her. It is heartbreaking with a person with so much potential is made to choose between two options, none of which will fulfill the rest of her life.
I read the free Project Gutenberg version which can be found here.