: The Radetzky March (Works of Joseph Roth) (): Joseph Roth, Joachim Neugroschel, Nadine Gordimer: Books. The Radetzky March charts the history of the Trotta family through three generations spanning the rise and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Through the. (Book Jacket Status: Jacketed) By one of the most distinguished Austrian writers of our century, a portrait of three generations set against the panoramic.

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If you look up the Austrian writer Joseph Roth on Amazon, after a minute or two you’ll be referred to the Scottish band Franz Ferdinand. When I first read Roth, things were very different. There was one Amazon, who was called Penthesilea, and one Franz Ferdinand, who was a casus belli.

I read Roth initially because I was asked to review him in the early s. I wrote about a novel called Weights and Measures and then about another one called Job. I was in my mids, a student, and to me as to most people, possibly even most people in Germany Roth was an unhappy or a neglected homonym of the more widely known Americans, Philip and Henry.

I was studying English, but even if I’d been doing modern languages, I suspect I wouldn’t have come across him either. When I turned to the German faculty library at Cambridge for more titles, I found they had only one book of his, which was a compilation of scenes, excerpts, highlights from his books, a sort of Greatest Hits. That struck me as an indignity to a prose writer – though it happens to pop groups almost as a matter of course – and I didn’t pursue it.

My parents in Germany hadn’t read Roth either, but they did at least have the then four volumes of his works at home, so I finally did.

I went on writing about him throughout the s. An introduction to Flight Without End. A longer piece about all of him, hung on Hotel Savoy. I said he was a prose Heine.

I said if history could choose a style, surely it would choose Roth’s. I described Roth as someone whose laundry lists would be worth reading. Ironically, I have ended up translating them, near as dammit. I have translated other books before and since, but basically it was Roth who made me a translator.

Five novels, three books of non-fiction, and a book of stories – nine books, and a 10th, a volume of letters, contracted for. I don’t know what I’ll do when all the possible books are done. Perhaps I’ll retranslate other people’s translations; perhaps I’ll retranslate my own.

The fact is, I can no longer imagine a life without Roth. It’s a plight I don’t recall having read about, though someone like Borges might easily have written about it.

The Radetzky March – Joseph Roth

Someone who loses or, better, waives their identity, and cedes it to someone else. A small country soliciting adoption or absorption by a larger power. I don’t even know what it is about Roth, beyond the fact that he writes beautiful sentences. But that, finally, is all you want as a translator from your author: If I was cynical – which I wasn’t – I would also say that Roth is in a perfect bracket for the translator: One wants an author with scope to grow, and at the same time not anyone who is so transparently great that he can’t benefit from your services.

But then I have never approached anything in this Machiavellian spirit anyway.

The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth | : Books

What there isn’t with Roth is anything like a confusion of identity; I don’t think I am him, in other words. If anything, rather too much the opposite. I feel almost radeztky sort of guilt about not being biographically or circumstantially closer to him. He died less than 20 years before I marcn born, but it seems more like 10 times that.

What am I, from the western edge of Germany, doing with someone from the east of the Holy Roman Empire? What has my Federal Republic to do with his radrtzky monarchy? My Freiburg with his Lemberg now in the Ukraine – though ironically, they are administratively twinned with each other! It’s easier for me to imagine meeting Dostoevsky, Baudelaire, Dickens.

Roth somehow resists the tendency of literature to update, to promote, to miscegenate: Roth is just so resolutely and specifically gone.

He reached into our modern world of newspapers, telephones, cars, advertising – and of Amazon and Franz Ferdinand, ultimately – but disdained it, radezky it, went backwards. Nitroglycerine, was his comment on it. It would be like meeting someone in sepia, a daguerreotype. There is not, as far as I know, any film footage of him, or any sound recordings – even though he lived until I don’t really know, and can’t quite imagine what he looked like, or sounded like his accent?


The photographs are averted, or they are masks. An eager brylcreemed sylph of a boy-journalist, later seedy with avoirdupois and Sitzfleisch. Courtly; ugly; natty; short. His hair blond-ish, supposedly, then a dark smear of wax trained across the wide, wide forehead; a cavalry moustache – bristly, or soft?

I wonder how much older he would have seemed than he was – he who claimed to have started radeetzky before his 10th birthday; whose experiences in the first world war – whatever radeyzky were – constituted his first taste of travel abroad; who came back in to josseph truncated fatherland; radtezky wife went mad; whose friends killed themselves or died early; who in just two decades wrote thousands of pages of fiction and thousands more of journalism.

I can’t read a line of his small script, not even his signature, and have never directly seen anything that was his. A further source rkth guilt for me is that I am older than he ever rotj to be. I re-read him often, and, perhaps oddly, in my English.

Not out of narcissism or anxiety, but as a sort of after-sales service to the reader. After all, if I put the books before an English public, they rotu stand up to any amount of re-reading.

Sometimes I will look for a particular scene, but mostly I just start reading anywhere. It’s the way one reads poetry, over time, to question familiarity or confirm awe, and I’m reminded of something the poet Joseph Brodsky said to me about Roth: I always thought the books were flawed, individually – except The Radetzky March, which makes it problematic in a different way – while collectively adding up to something astonishingly complete.

They were rushed, and suffered nobly from an excess of material. If you read his dozen or so novels, and his score of short stories, all written in the short space of 15 years, from to his death inthen it seems to me you have the wherewithal for one great book on Jewishness, one josephh the dual monarchy, one on returning from the war, one on alcohol, on family, radetsky passion, on ageing, on betrayal, and so forth.

My sense of them was as of a Rubik’s cube, something one could tinker with informally in one’s mind – koseph a way, a much more engrossing, and a more loveable thing than completeness and perfection.

And in any case, why bother, given jospeh poet Randall Jarrell’s wily definition of a novel as so and so many words of narrative prose, “with something wrong with it”. The Radetzky March, Roth’s one unimpugnable masterpiece, far and away his most familiar title, the one book of his that has found a modestly commensurate readership of people who haven’t read, and perhaps wouldn’t consider reading his other books, radeetzky to me an object of some macrh.

I ducked out of translating it once before, for a centenary publication; I’m glad I did; I think I probably wasn’t ready for it. When I did finally translate The Radetzky March, inI almost attacked it in my introduction, so much did I feel I had to protect Roth from his own book! I still can’t quite believe I translated such a thing, and I am completely at a loss to understand how he wrote it. Its 21 chapters plus epilogue are a procession of artistic triumphs, relating the measured and mounting human calamities of its protagonists, the members – sire, son, grandson – toth the Trotta family.

Each chapter moves decisively away from its premise. Thus, chapter one begins with the first Trotta’s act of heroism he jooseph the life of the emperor at the battle of Solferinoand ends with his grandson hauled along to witness his funeral. The second begins with the boy being debriefed by his father at the end of a term at cadet school, and proceeds through a chilly but oddly loving account of a formal lunch, to end in one of the great seduction scenes in literature another, as luck would have it, is that of rtoh boy Karl Rossmann, in Amerika:.

There were tears in her eyes. Then she leaned back madch, tenderly and methodically, undid one button of his tunic after another. Chapter 16 begins with Herr von Trotta looking for a new servant, and ends with him going cap in hand to the local rich man for a loan. And so on, and so forth. How Roth, who grew up without a rooth and had no children, who was not an Austrian aristocrat but a Jew from Brody, whose Jews proverbially were worse off than those of any other place in the empire, who was not a military man – who at practically no stage of the book is writing of anything he knew – was able to imagine these things so vividly and authoritatively is anyone’s guess.


It is the opposite of Thomas Mann, who is generally on home ground in his epic of familial decline, Buddenbrooks. Nor does Roth employ Mann’s self-absolving irony to ensure and then in effect to celebrate his own survival. To me it is as miraculous as anything in Flaubert or Joyce. What elsewhere in Roth has the appearance of stylistic vices – an excessive, almost fanciful registering of colours and sounds and smells, a joyful noticing of birds and flowers and weather, the favouring of words such as “little” and “swift”, a whimsically intelligent way with similes, a gentle underscoring of dramatic ironies, fast and sudden catastrophes of plot – in The Radetzky March is triumphantly virtuous.

Too eye-catching, too written, too opportunistic, too ungoverned, too enamoured of detail, a style of impulse, not too dissimilar from the journalism from which Roth began, and to which he returned all his life, basically centrifugal, josep moments – in The Radetzky March it is bent to serve an overriding historical, even civilisatory purpose.

It seems to say, with Baudelaire, “j’ai plus de souvenirs que si j’avais mille ans”.

The book is so perfectly round, taking in variously Vienna, provincial Austria, the times of day and night, the seasons, ranks and classes, up to and including the emperor himself, who is a forgetful old fellow with a drop on his nose. When I began reading Roth, the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, uneasily incorporating 17 nationalities, was something I had been made to study, and as ill luck or bad management had contrived, more than once, at school.

It was certainly nothing I felt the least thing for, and the idea that I should would have seemed to me absurd. Now it seems to me a heroic project, and its end in a blizzard of competing nationalisms a continuing tragedy for Europe, which the EU is a pallid and rather soulless effort to wrest round.

The recent wars on the European mainland, Milosevic and Tudjman, the siege of Sarajevo and the atrocities in Bosnia, the shelling of Dubrovnik, the destruction of the ancient bridge at Mostar, and further back the division of Europe, the Iron Curtain, the murder of six million Jews and both world wars, all seem to me to be directly traceable to the end of the dual monarchy.

I feel like a fully paid-up Habsburg monarchist. Roth has convinced me. And now he should have the last word.

I don’t have a favourite chapter in The Radetzky March so much for the odious Cambridge selectionor even a favourite sentence. However, I have always been moved by the majestic paragraph of frankly authorial commentary at the beginning of chapter eight:.

In the years before the Great War, at the time the events chronicled in these pages took place, it was not yet a matter of indifference whether a man lived or died. When someone was expunged from the lists of the living, someone else did not immediately step up to take his place, but a gap was left to show where he had been, and those who knew the man who had died or disappeared, well or even less well, fell silent whenever they saw the gap.

When a fire happened to consume a particular dwelling in a row of dwellings, the site of the conflagration remained for a long time afterwards. For masons and bricklayers worked slowly and thoughtfully, and when they walked past the ruins, neighbours and passers-by alike recalled the form and the walls of the house that had once stood there. That’s how it was rotn

Everything that grew took long to grow; and everything that ended took a long time to be forgotten. Everything that existed left behind traces of itself, and people then lived by their memories, just as we nowadays live by our capacity to forget, quickly and comprehensively. The second begins with the boy being debriefed by his father at the end of a term at cadet school, and proceeds through a chilly but joselh loving account of a formal lunch, to end in one of the great seduction scenes in literature another, as luck would have it, is that of the boy Karl Rossmann, in Amerika: