Yalom's book is the talk of Vienna…literally

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“History is fiction that did happen. Whereas fiction is history that might have happened.”

André Gide‘s comment describes how Irv Yalom approached his acclaimed When Nietzsche Wept. But maybe it goes a little way to explaining the last few weeks, too. His triumphant month as a guest of honor in Vienna sounds like a dream come true for the Stanford psychotherapist-turned-novelist.  Certainly a work of fiction became part of the city’s history.

With Vienna's mayor Michael Häupl and books

The occasion was indeed a remarkable one: Eine Stadt. Ein Buch in Vienna. Every year, the city picks a book and distributes 100,000 free copies to its citizens, via bookstores, libraries, schools, the book fair, and elsewhere. Vienna becomes a “reading club” for the book. For the city that is the home of Freud and the birthplace of psychoanalysis, Yalom’s book was a natural choice: it takes place in 1882, when Yalom envisions Sigmund Freud’s prominent colleague Josef Breuer agreeing to use his experimental “talking cure” to treat Friedrich Nietzsche, who is on the brink of suicidal despair as he ends his liaison with the ubiquitous Lou Andreas-Salomé (best known for her affair with Rainer Maria Rilke).  For Yalom, it was a chance to study “how a therapy based on an existential philosophy might differ from the psychosexually based foundations of psychoanalysis.”

“Irv was really the toast of the city, starting with a stampede at the Book Fair for the first copies of When Nietzsche Wept and ending Sunday night with a gala dinner at City Hall for 700 people, which was grand beyond belief,” Marilyn Yalom wrote to the Book Haven from Moscow earlier this week.  And the hoopla, she said, was overwhelming:  You can read about it (in German) here and here and here.

Since 2002, the chosen books have included: The Forever Street by Frederic Morton, Fatelessness by the Nobel Prizewinner Imre Kertész, Das geheime Brot by Johannes Mario Simmel, Setting Free The Bears by John Irving, The Bluest Eye by the Nobel Prizewinner Toni Morrison, Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby and last year Still Alive by Ruth Klüger.

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The Yaloms at Vienna's Freud Museum

Marilyn Yalom shared some of the glory this fall: In addition to speaking alongside Irv to an assembly of psychologists in Moscow, she spoke at the Excelsior branch of the San Francisco Public Library on Oct. 28 with her photographer son Reid Yalom, and was “very surprised” when a representative of the California State Assembly presented her with a fancy Certificate of Recognition “honoring extraordinary leadership in the literary arts and continued commitment to ensuring the quality of reading” through her book The American Resting Place: Four Hundred Years of History through our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds, “thereby benefiting the people of the City and County of San Francisco and the State of California.”


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