Translated from the German by Geoffrey Dunlop. He lived to be over 90 and died in harness. For years he fought the red-tape artists who taught that military science, like the Rock of Ages, never changed. The measure of his success, as chief of staff and Field Marshal, may be found in the fact that during his lifetime Austria occasionally won a fight. After his death came the evil days; Austria was beaten by Louis Napoleon, by Bismarck, and, finally, in the World War.
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Save Story Save this story for later. She is very beautiful. We first encounter her as Demant walks into their bedroom. She is wearing only a pair of blue panties, and is brandishing a large pink powder puff. He is dumpy and clumsy and nearsighted. He is intelligent and melancholic. He is a Jew. The other officers despise him, the more so since his wife deceives him at every opportunity.
Later, in the night, he reconciles himself to this. His life has offered him little but insults. Why regret leaving it? He takes a drink. Soon he feels calm, lighthearted—already dead, almost. The world is beautiful. At the duelling ground, he discovers that his myopia has vanished. He can see again! From a medical standpoint, it was inexplicable.
Thus, a third of the way through his novel, Roth kills off its most admirable character, in a scene of comedy as well as tears. For this tragic evenhandedness, Roth has been compared to Tolstoy. For his dark comedy, he might also be compared to his contemporary Franz Kafka. For most of his adult life, Roth was a hardworking journalist, travelling back and forth between Berlin and Paris, his two home bases, but also reporting from Russia, Poland, Albania, Italy, and southern France.
They are solid structures, full of psychological penetration and tragic force. Shortly after it came out, he was forced into exile by the Third Reich.
In the years that followed, he lived mainly in Paris, where, while he went on writing, he also swiftly drank himself to death. He died in and was soon forgotten. Roth was a man of many friends, mostly writers—the celebrated biographer and memoirist Stefan Zweig, the playwright Ernst Toller, the novelist Ernst Weiss—and his work was rescued by a friend.
With this publication, the Roth revival began, but slowly. Because Roth was always on the move, he had no files, no boxes of books in the attic. Meanwhile, the Third Reich had done its best to wipe out any trace of his career. In , when the Germans invaded the Netherlands, they destroyed the entire stock of his last published novel, which had just come off the presses of his Dutch publisher. The translation of Roth proceeded even more haltingly. In his lifetime, only six of his novels appeared in English, and after his death there was no strong push to translate the rest of them.
Those people who knew about him sometimes wondered why this dark-minded Jew, fully modern in his view of history as a nightmare, showed none of the stylistic experimentation that, according to the mid-century consensus, was the natural outcome of such a view, and the defining trait of the early modernist novel. By the nineteen-seventies and eighties, however, the job of getting Roth out in English had started up again.
Equally crucial in this rescue operation was one translator, the poet Michael Hofmann. In the past fifteen years, Hofmann has translated, beautifully, nine books by Roth. Furthermore, his brief introductions to those volumes are the best available commentary on the writer.
Hofmann is untroubled by such questions. He takes Roth whole. Advertisement Thanks to these people, all the novels are now in print in English. As the new translations have come out, Roth has been the subject of long, meaty review-essays. There have been Roth conferences. There is now an academic industry of sorts. Still, Roth has received only scant attention, relative to his achievement. There is no biography of him in English.
An American, David Bronsen, wrote a biography, but it was published only in German, in Even more striking, to me, is how seldom he is spoken of. In the past few years, I have made a point of asking literary people what they know about him. Ethnically, this was a huge ragbag, and separatist movements were already under way, but to many citizens of the empire its heterogeneity was its glory. Because they could claim no nation within the crown lands, they feared nationalism—they felt, rightly, that it would fall hard on them—and so they were loyal subjects of the Emperor.
Roth shared their view. He changed his politics a number of times in his life, but he never forsook his ideal of European unity or his hatred of nationalism.
He grew up in Brody, a small, mostly Jewish town in Galicia, at the easternmost edge of the empire, six miles from the Russian border. Shortly before his birth, his father, Nachum, who was a grain buyer for a Hamburg export firm, had some sort of psychiatric episode while travelling on a train in Germany. He grew up very Jewish—the family was Orthodox, and the schools he attended were Jewish, or mostly—but the beginnings of assimilation were there.
He spoke German at home and at school, and his teachers, faithful subjects of Austria-Hungary, gave him a solid classical education, with emphasis on German literature. He left home at the age of nineteen, and soon landed at the University of Vienna, an institution that he came to regard with mixed feelings.
Already before the First World War, Ostjuden, or Jews from the East, were pouring into the Western capitals, and, with their soiled bundles and their numerous children, they were regarded, basically, as immigrant scum.
Roth was one of them. Over the next few years, he rid himself of his Galician accent. He dropped his first name, Moses. He affected a monocle, a cane. He said his father was an Austrian railway official, or an arms manufacturer, or a Polish count. His education came to an end with the First World War, which he spent as a private in a desk job.
He later claimed that he was a lieutenant, and a prisoner of war in Russia. After the armistice, he went to work as a journalist, first in Vienna, then in Berlin, where he wrote feuilletons, or think pieces, for a number of newspapers, and in this genre he found his first voice: a wised-up, bitter voice, perfect for describing the Weimar Republic.
They are as dark as the journalism, but more disturbing, because in them he seems to be writing about himself, with hatred as well as with grief. He had always been fatherless; now, with the fall of Austria-Hungary at the end of the war, he was stateless. All his novels of the nineteen-twenties are Heimkehrerromane, stories of soldiers returning from the war, and what these men find is that there is no home for them to return to. They would have been better off if they had died.
For some of them, Roth has compassion; he analyzes the religious awe in which they once held the state, and their brutal disabusement. He was the first person to inscribe the name of Adolf Hitler in European fiction, and that was in , ten years before Hitler took over Germany. His portraits of Jews therefore lack the pious edgelessness of most post-Holocaust writing.
But none of the above! As for German nationalism, he regarded it, at least in the twenties, mainly as a stink up the nose, a matter of lies and nature hikes and losers trying to gain power. He was frightened of it, but he also thought it was ridiculous.
Advertisement If Roth had continued in this vein, he would be known to us today as a gifted minor writer, the literary equivalent of George Grosz. But in his newspaper sent him to France, and there he found a happiness he had never known before.
In part, this was simply because the French were less anti-Semitic than the Germans. But also it seemed to him that in this country—which, unlike his, had not lost the war—European culture, a version of the Austrian Idea, was still going forward, and that he could be part of it.
The cattlemen with whom I eat breakfast are more aristocratic and refined than our cabinet ministers, patriotism is justified here, nationalism is a demonstration of a European conscience. Here he is, sitting in a building created by the Roman emperors, watching a movie created by Cecil B.
They slowly wipe across the sky, as though they were strolling, and leave a thin, bloody trail. Others again are small, swift, and silver. They fly like bullets. Others glow like little running suns and brighten the horizon considerably for some time. Then the split quickly closes, and the majesty is once more hidden for good. He just arranges the elements of the vision—majesty, terror bullets, blood , beauty, enigma—in a shining constellation.
He is moving out of satire, into tragedy. If the change that overtook him in the late twenties was due partly to happiness, it was also born of sorrow. Friedl was reportedly a sweet, unassuming girl, so shy as to suggest that she may already have been unbalanced. Apart from the fact that she was beautiful, and that Roth was reckless he was by now a heavy drinker , it is hard to know why he chose her. In any case, he was soon telling her to keep her mouth shut in front of his friends.
By , she was complaining that there were ghosts in the central-heating system, and that her room had a dew in it that frightened her. She had catatonic episodes, too. Realizing that she could no longer be left alone, Roth started taking her on assignment with him, and locking her in their room when he had to go out by himself. Or he parked her with friends of his, or he put her in a hospital and then took her out again. He brought her to specialists; he called in a wonder rabbi. He was tortured by guilt, and probably by resentment as well.
Anything that grew took its time growing, and anything that perished took a long time to be forgotten. But everything that had once existed left its traces, and people lived on memories just as they now live on the ability to forget quickly and emphatically. The empire was in decline, but not yet aware that their way of life was about to end. There was a way that things were done and any deviation was stressful and possibly scandalous.
The Radetzky March
Habsburg empire[ edit ] Student identity card photo of Joseph Roth ca. Jewish culture played an important role in the life of the town, which had a large Jewish population. Roth grew up with his mother and her relatives; he never saw his father, who had disappeared before he was born. In , Roth broke off his university studies and volunteered to serve in the Imperial Habsburg army fighting on the Eastern Front, "though possibly only as an army journalist or censor.
Johann Strauss Senior rustled up this rollicking tune, and a hundred years ago you could hear it in market towns the length and breadth of the Empire. As such, the novel would make for a fine companion to any journey through Central Europe, be you in Vienna , Krakow , Lviv or Ljubljana. Indeed, of all the novels that deal with the twilight of Habsburg rule, this one can lay a fair claim to being the best. The Radetzky March follows the destiny of a family of humble Slovenian origins who rise to prominence through valour on the battlefield.
Plot[ edit ] Radetzky March relates the stories of three generations of the Trotta family, professional Austro-Hungarian soldiers and career bureaucrats of Slovenian origin — from their zenith during the empire to the nadir and breakup of that world during and after the First World War. To thwart snipers, Infantry Lieutenant Trotta topples the Emperor from his horse. The Emperor awards Lt. Trotta the Order of Maria Theresa and ennobles him. Following his social elevation Lt. Trotta, now Baron Trotta, is regarded by his family — including his father — as a man of superior quality.