Joseph Roth (1894-1939) was the great elegist of the cosmopolitan culture that flourished in the dying days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He published several books and articles before his untimely death at the age of 44. Roth's writing has been admired by J. M. Coetzee, Jeffrey Eugenides, Elie Wiesel, and Nadine Gordimer, among many others. The poet Michael Hofmann has won numerous prizes for his German translations.
Belatedly recognized in this country, but long acclaimed in Europe for such brilliant, classic novels as The Radetzky March, Roth died in 1939 in the early days of WWII. The 17 stories in this collection display his diverse but sometimes erratic talent. In the early entries, Roth paints his plots and characters in short, broad strokes, a trait leading to abrupt, unpredictable plot twists that occasionally blur the effect of his shorter works. When he stretches out and delves into the irony and humor of European life, however, his narratives acquire considerable resonance. "Station Fallmerayer," written in 1933, is a heartrending account of an Austrian station master who becomes obsessed with a Russian countess he rescues from a train wreck, despite the effects his pursuit has on their respective marriages. "The Triumph of Beauty" works on a different level as Roth explores the impact of an attractive, fickle hypochondriac on her beleaguered husband. Several other narratives extend to novella length, and the collection also contains works that were intended as blueprints for novels, such as the vividly evocative, elegiac "Strawberries." His penultimate achievement, "The Leviathan," tells of a coral merchant preoccupied with the mystery of the sea, who falls for the lure of selling fake merchandise, only to join his precious original wares in the watery depths. This collection marks the first time Roth's short fiction (some of which came to light only recently) has been available in English, and although a few of these stories are immature early works, taken together they testify to the talents of a writer who was penetratingly prescient about the tragedies that marred the 20th century. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
"Joseph Roth is one of the great writers of German of this century." -- The Times [London]
The Austrian-born Roth is probably best known for his 1932 novel, The Radetzky March, which portrayed how, through a quirk of fate, an unassuming soldier and his family are suddenly elevated to a higher station within the soon-to-be crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire, severing them forever from the life that they had known and loved. The detail with which Roth portrayed his country and customs in that novel is evident in this collection, which couples recently unearthed stories from Roth's early career with previously published stories and novellas from his career after fleeing the Nazis in 1933. His early pieces tend toward the ironic and personal, exposing fatal flaws in the sad lives of his heroes, like "The Honor Student" who puts ambition before love or the paper pusher who is foolishly loyal to his less-than-progressive employer in "Career." Roth's later works widen in scope and echo the times and feelings surrounding World War I, as in the thwarted would-be romance of "Stationmaster Fallmerayer" and the heartfelt requiem for the passing of monarchy in "The Bust of the Emperor." But the irony remains throughout, as does Roth's gift of storytelling, which is intentionally simple and direct. The volume is seemingly aimed at Roth's followers, but readers interested in the period will welcome it as well. Larger libraries will find this a good complement to Radetzky and Roth's other novels. Marc Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.