4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 19 April 2011
This is a lovely little book written by Joseph Roth in 1927. Joseph Roth was born in Brody (now in the Ukraine) where my mother's family originated, and I was interested to see the way he portrayed the movement of Eastern European Jews to the West at the turn of the twentieth century, e.g Vienna and what he had to say about them. My mother's family too left for Vienna in 1899. Although Roth himself moved away from Brody and settled to work as a writer and journalist in Vienna, Berlin and eventually in Paris where he died in 1939, he defends the culture of the shtetls in Eastern Europe against the 'smokestacks' and hatred that Jews find as they travel west to make a better life. Well worth reading.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 September 2010
This a short presentation by the Jewish writer Joseph Roth. He visited the countries he has written about and gives an indication of the lives of those who considered themselves to be Jewish. It is essential reading for anyone who wants a greater understanding of the position of Jews especially in Europe although Roth does cover America.
Roth died in 1937,bearing in mind the Second World War did not begin until 1938, his summary is chillingly prophetic
24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 4 February 2002
The recent publication of Roth's musings on the Jews has brought positive reviews, many of them making more than a nod in the direction of the respected translator Michael Hofmann. Such praise for the translation is largely well-deserved. The only possible quibble concerns the occasional point in the (English) text where the momentum of the piece is halted by an odd, often non-English usage (possibly done for deliberate effect). One can almost hear the gears grinding in the translator's (rather than the author's) brain.
However, despite the useful insights it provides into Jewish life (and into Roth's views on Jewish life - not the same thing, of course), this rather haphazard accumulation of anecdotes ultimately adds up to something rather disappointing and lightweight. Too many of the details fall flat in their determinedly quotidian meanderings, rather than coming across as valuable insights "from the horse's mouth", as it were. In Roth's own novels, and the work of other German writers such as Günter Grass, such an accretion of detail adds up to a kind of symbolic naturalism that teaches us things at both micro and macro level, about both the immediate context and the wider world. Removed from the discipline of plot, the descriptions have nothing to drive them forward but the reader's own hindsight.
Nevertheless, such visions of a vanished world are, of course, valuable per se precisely because much of what they describe (the Jewish culture of Eastern Europe) was largely wiped out. The slim volume is therefore worth a read for anybody interested in the field.
My own personal favourite among the wealth of detailed observations, which perhaps illustrates the problems inherent in such a personalized view, where one person's insight may be another person's prejudice, is the reference to Jewish interpreters. Roth says that Jews, being able to understand the spirit of the outsider, intuit. Gentiles merely translate. (As a translator/interpreter myself, that tickled me).
The book, then, like much of Roth's work, is one of the only ways we have of remembering this vanished world. It should be read in that light.
This is the first translation into English of "The Wandering Jews", possibly because Roth's work is being rediscovered (or just discovered), but also perhaps because such memoirs are gaining in importance from a historical point of view, irrespective of any perceived literary merit.