The story of Great War veteran, Andreas Pum. When he is imprisoned after a fight, life seems unbearable. A chance encounter with an old comrade who has made his fortune brings Pum to a world where he has a transfiguring experience of justice.
Chronicling the trials (literal and figurative) of a downtrodden prole, Roth seems sincerely indignant--and he even allows his protagonist a fiery speech in the final pages, during which the Almighty Himself gets an effective spanking: "How impotent You are in your omnipotence! You have billions of accounts and make mistakes in individual items? What kind of God are you?"
Prior to this point, Andreas Pum hasn't exactly been a model of biblical eloquence. After losing a leg in World War I, he's made his living as a beggar with a hurdy-gurdy, soliciting coins from passers-by. This pious lamebrain does have the luck to marry a voluptuous widow and for a brief moment he partakes of "a new and numbing blissfulness, which armours us against the offences and hurts of the world." But a quarrel with a middle-class snob on a tram soon deprives Andreas of his wife, his beggar's license and his freedom.
Thus begins his descent, which Roth narrates in such a rapid-fire style that this Viennese Job seems to hit bottom almost overnight. Perhaps Andreas's final jeremiad--and indeed, his transformation into a quasi-anarchist--betrays the hand of an ideological stage manager. Yet Roth was far too brilliant a novelist to dabble in social realism and even his portrait of Andreas's sentencing judge is deliciously equivocating:
The judge himself was clean-shaven. He had an impassive face of granite majesty, like a dead emperor's. It was gray as weathered sandstone ... It was a face that might have looked heartless and implacable, had the middle of its powerful masculine chin not held an appealing, almost child-like dimple.For this die-hard fan of the Dual Monarchy, of course, the comparison to a dead emperor was the highest of compliments. But it was the novelist in Roth, not the left-leaning polemicist, who decided to add the dimple. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Like Job he gradually loses that faith, not denying, by reviling god. His child-like trust and dependence on the beneficence of the state are shattered as his permit, his right to exist, is taken. Chapter 7 and 8 of the book in particular capture how easily our lives can change by a simple encounter with others whom we do not know. Herr Arnold enters the tale in chapter 7, totally from the blue and in only a few pages, Roth captures as well as any author the psychology or rage and its transference onto others - road rage without the automobiles. Rebellion, though little known or read, belongs in the same exclusive club as the The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek and Kafka's The Trial. Each is unique, but they have in common protagonists who face a world that cares little for them, or more accurately is unaware of them. Svejk bumbles through and unwittingly overcomes in spite of everything; K struggles against the injustice of it all, and Andreas faith in god and state gradually dissolve and his life with it.
But for the grace of god (or luck) there go I echo's throughout the pages of this marvelous little work. Few writers capture the paradox of man's need for others and man as alone from others as well as Joseph Roth. Andrea's cry, when all is literally gone, "I don't want Your mercy! I want to go to Hell," brings him life in death. A man of perpetual concessions, he rises in rebellion. Fortunately for us, Roth's works have not been thrown into the Inferno, but only have been mired in publication limbo, and nearly all his novels, short stories, and his marvelous book of essays, The Wandering Jews, have been resurrected. There is much despair in Rebellion, but in its humanity, it is not a despairing work. As good a place as any to begin reading the cannon of Joseph Roth!
"Rebellion" is the first novel Roth has written. I read it right after "The Radetzky March", in the wrong order, so to speak. Surely it's even less nuanced, but there's some great truth in Roth's writing, ability to present general and symbolic ideas using everyday life details.
The book is a bit sentimental and melodramatic, still it has something real about it, like any other great work of literature. I am planning to continue with Josef Roth, with his fiction - and, especially - with his journalism. Considering the quality of his fictional prose, it must be of the highest quality.