Collected Shorter Fiction of Joseph Roth Paperback – 17 Oct 2002
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'Roth is one of the great addictive writers of the first half of the 20th century. He is witty, profound, surprising and melancholy. The paradox is this: no-one is fundamentally more pessimistic; no writer is more affirmative' The Scotsman 'The poet Michael Hofmann has performed such an invaluable service that it's a shame that the minting of medals has gone out of fashion.' Evening Standard 'Clearly illustrate the qualities that make his prose so distinctive' The Sunday Telegraph
About the Author
Joseph Roth's (1894-1939) books include The Legend of the Holy Drinker, The Wandering Jews, The Emperor's Tomb, The String of Pearls and The Radetzky March. Michael Hofmann is a poet. As a translator his work includes Kafka's The Man who Disappeared (Amerika). He has also translated Joseph Roth's The Legend of the Holy Drinker, Right and Left and The String of Pearls.
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As you read the `Collected Shorter Fiction of Joseph Roth', you'll marvel at his language - his remarkable talent for using simple words to evoke pictures and feelings deep in your mind. Consider, for instance, "...the perfumed lilac breathed, the blackbirds sang, the month of May came giggling out of the undergrowth..." from `The Honors Student', the very first story in his collection. Or, "The woodpeckers were already hammering at the trees. It rained a lot..." his opening sentences from `Strawberries' - another touching tale. And, like me, you'll discover the world of Joseph Roth, thanks largely to Michael Hofmann's translation.
There are seventeen stories in this collection, all of them wonderfully entertaining. A few of them are long enough to be novellas, but that's a bonus. Roth writes about small towns, men living in the past, women compelled to wasting their years, and childhoods cut short by necessity. His characters are so real that you'll feel you might have known some of them, sometime in your life. Each story is a touch melancholic, sometimes even tragic. But his words seem to live on forever.
What you'll also find running through Roth's stories is an obsession with the past, or at least, a preoccupation with maintaining status quo. Perhaps, it's a reflection of his own inability in accepting the changes in his life: World War I, the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the rise of nationalism and Nazi Germany. A point he clearly laments in `The Bust of the Emperor': "They are no longer content to be divided into peoples, no! - it seems they're hell-bent on belonging to different nations. Nationalism - get this, Solomon?! - Not even monkeys could have come up with that one."
But melancholy and his obsession with the past are not the only elements that drive these stories. Roth weaves in humour too. Take for instance this description from `Barbara': "He patted Barbara's cheeks, and it felt to her like five little piglets scrabbling over her face." Or, this passage in `The Triumph of Beauty': "She fell to her knees and kissed my friend's toe-caps. He couldn't fight her off. She slapped him as well. Then, she collapsed on the floor, lifeless as a doll. It wasn't possible to lift her up. She seemed to be welded to the carpet."
Joseph Roth's words are wonderfully simple, his descriptions vivid, and his stories, entertaining. A touch melancholic perhaps, but a delightful collection. Read and enjoy!
It is a glorious collection. Buy it, read it, keep it by your side for future reference.