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Authors: Joseph Roth

The Radetzky March

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The Radetzky March

Joseph Roth was born in 1894 in a small Galician town on the eastern borders of the Habsburg Empire. From 1916 to 1918 he served in the Austro-Hungarian Army, a period of his life shrouded in uncertainty during which he later claimed to have spent some months in Russian captivity. He then worked as a journalist in Vienna, Berlin and Frankfurt, covering events in Europe. In 1933 he left Germany and lived mainly in Paris and the south of France. He was one of the central figures in the
intellectual opposition to the Nazis. His was nevertheless the life of a fugitive; often unable to find a publisher for his books and beset by poverty, loneliness and despair, he died of the effects of alcoholism in 1939.

Joseph Roth wrote thirteen novels, as well as many stories and essays. haunted by never having known his father, who had become insane before his birth and died in 1910 in Russia, he frequently explored the relationship between father and son in his writings. This theme is interwoven with the experiences of war and anti-Semitism:
Flight Without End
(1927) is the story of a disillusioned officer returning home; and
(1930) is the moving portrait of a modern wandering Jew.
The Radetzky March
(1932), a remarkable chronicle of the decaying Austro-Hungarian Empire, was followed by a sequel,
The Emperor’s Tomb
(1938), which continues the story up to the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Hitler’s Germany. Roth is now recognized, along with Thomas Mann, Proust and Joyce, as one of the greatest writers in modern literature.

Joachim Neugroschel has won many awards, including several PEN translation prizes, for his work. He has also translated Georges Bataille’s
Story of the Eye
for Penguin.

Nadine Gordimer was born and lives in South Africa. She is the author of many novels and story collections, including
Burger’s Daughter, The Conservationist, My Son’s Story, Jump, None to Accompany Me
The House Gun.
In 1991 she received the Nobel Prize for Literature.






Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London
, England
Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London
, England

This edition first published in the USA by The Overlook Press 1995
First published in Great Britain in Penguin Books 1995
Reprinted in Penguin Classics 2000

Text copyright © Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag, Berlin, 1932
This translation copyright © Joachim Neugroschel, 1995
Introduction copyright © Nadine Gordimer, 1991
All rights reserved

The moral right of the translator has been asserted

Nadine Gordimer’s Introduction first appeared as an essay in
The New York Review of Books
, 1991

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser


The Empire of Joseph Roth


I have been writing about Joseph Roth, the wheel of Karma—or historical consequence?—has brought Roth’s territory back to a reenactment of the situation central to his work. In Roth’s novels—and supremely through the lives of the Von Trotta family in his masterpieces,
The Radetzky March
(1932) and its sequel
The Emperor’s Tomb
(1934)—we see the deterioration of a society, an empire, in which disparate nationalities have been forced into political unity by an overriding authority and its symbol: the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the personality of Emperor Franz Joseph. There the rise of socialism and fascism against royalism led to Sarajevo and the First World War. After World War II the groups that had won autonomy were forced together again, if in a slightly different conglomerate, by another all-powerful authority and its symbol: the Communist bloc and the personality of Joseph Stalin. Now restlessness and rebellion, this time against the socialism that has not proved to be liberation, brings once again the breakup of a hegemony. Passages in Roth’s work, about the Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs, could with scarcely a change describe what has happened in Yugoslavia in 1991.

Roth: he looks out from a bookjacket photograph. Just the face in a small frame; it is as if someone held up a death mask. The ovals of the eyes are black holes. The chin pressed up against the black shadow of a mustache hides stoically the secrets of the lips. A whole life, in bronze, seems there. And there’s another image in that face: the huge sightless eyes with their thick upper and lower lids dominating the width of the face have the
mysteriously ancient gaze of a fetus, condemned to suffer the world.

“Je travaille, mon roman sera bon, je crois, plus parfait que ma vie,”
Roth wrote.
Prefaces to some translations of his books give the same few pennylife facts: born in 1894 in Galicia, served in the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War, worked as a journalist in Vienna, Berlin, and Prague, left for France in 1933, wrote fifteen novels and novellas mainly while taking part in the émigré opposition to the Nazis, died an alcoholic in Paris in 1939. I failed to find a full biography in English. After having reread all Roth’s fiction available to me, I am glad that, instead, I know him in the only way writers themselves know to be valid for an understanding of their work: through the work itself. Let the schools of literary criticism, rapacious fingerlings, resort to the facts of the author’s life before they can interpret the text.

Robert Musil, Roth’s contemporary in Austria-Hungary, although the two great writers evidently never met, put into the mouth of his Ulrich
“One can’t be angry with one’s own time without damage to oneself”; to know that Roth’s anger destroyed him one has only to read the great works it produced. The text gives us the man, not the other way around. The totality of Joseph Roth’s work is no less than a
tragédie humaine
achieved in the techniques of modern fiction. No other contemporary writer, not excepting Thomas Mann, has come so close to achieving the wholeness—lying atop a slippery pole we never stop trying to climb—that Lukács cites as our impossible aim.

From the crude beginnings in his first novels,
The Spider’s Web
(1923) and
Hotel Savoy
(1924), the only work in which Roth was satisfied to use the verbal equivalent of the expressionist caricaturing of Georg Grosz or Otto Dix, through
Flight Without End
The Silent Prophet
, and all his other works with, perhaps, the exception of the novellas
Zipper and his Father
(1928) and
Fallmerayer the Stationmaster
(1933), his anti-heroes are almost all soldiers, ex-prisoners of war, deserters: former aristocrats, bourgeois, peasants, and criminals all declassed in the immorality of survival of the 1914–1918 war. This applies not only to the brutal or underhand necessity that survival demands,
but also to the sense that, in the terrible formulation of a last member of the Trotta dynasty, they had been “Found unfit for death.”

All the young are candidates for the solutions of communism or fascism when there are no alternatives to despair or dissipation. Their fathers are unable to make even these choices, only to decay over the abyss of memory. All, young and old, are superfluous men to an extent Lermontev could not have conceived. Women are attendant upon them in this circumstance. Roth, although he often shows Joyce’s uncanny ability to write about women from under their skin, sees them according to their influence on men. “We love the world they represent and the destiny they mark out for us.” While his women are rarely shown as overtly rejecting this male-determined solution to their existence, they are always unspokenly convinced of their entitlement to life, whether necessity determines it should be lived behind a bar, in a brothel bed, or as an old
grande dame
in poverty. No better than the men, they connive and plot; but even when he shows them at their slyest and most haughtily destructive, he grants them this spiritedness. If one reads the life (his) from the work, it is evident that Roth suffered in love and resented it; in most of his work desired women represent sexual frustration, out of reach.

The splendid wholeness of Roth’s oeuvre is achieved in three ways. There’s the standard one of cross-casting characters from one novel to the next. There’s the far bolder risk-taking, in which he triumphs, of testing his creativity by placing different temperaments from different or (even more skilled) similar background in the same circumstances in different novels. There’s the overall paradoxical unity of traditional opposition itself, monarchic/revolutionary, pitched together in the dissolution of all values, for which he finds the perfect physical metaphor: the frontier between Franz Joseph’s empire and the tsar’s empire, exemplified in Jadlowsky’s tavern, which appears in both
The Radetzky March
Weights and Measures
. There, the rogue Kapturak, a Jew whose exploitation of others’ plight stems from his own as a victim of tsarist anti-Semitism, hides the Russian army deserters he’s going to sell to labor agents in
America and Australia. The only contacts between men are contraband; commerce of this kind is all that will be left of the two monarchic empires fighting each other to a mutual death, and the only structure that will still exist in the chaos to follow; the early twentieth-century class struggle will arise from that.

petite phrase
in the single great work into which all this transforms is not a Strauss waltz but the elder Strauss’s
Radetzky March
, in honor of the Austrian field marshal who was victorious against Sardinia. Its tempo beats from the tavern through Vienna and all the villages and cities of Franz Joseph’s empire, to Berlin in those novels where the other imperial eagle has only one head. For Roth’s is the frontier of history. It is not recreated from accounts of the past, as
War and Peace
was, but recounted contemporaneously by one who lived there, in every sense, himself. This is not an impudent literary value judgment; it is, again, the work that provides a reading of the author’s life. Here was a writer obsessed with and possessed by his own time. From within it he could hear the drum rolls of the past resounding to the future.

BOOK: The Radetzky March
4.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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