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Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters Hardcover – 2 Feb 2012

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (2 Feb. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847083404
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847083401
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 4.7 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 653,220 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'A wonderful selection ... this superb collection of letters will stand as a perfect introduction to the work itself' --William Boyd, Sunday Times

`These are extraordinary letters, as finely written as any letters of the century, beautifully and sensitively rendered by Michael Hofmann' --Philip Hensher, Spectator

'A grand tribute to one of the most grievously disappointed literary geniuses of the 20th century' --Daily Telegraph

`A fascinating picture of a writer who only understood the world when he was writing. Michael Hofmann's translation is superb' --Sunday Telegraph

'This heartbreaking volume testifies to the towering humanity of one of the finest writers of the 20th century'
--Irish Times

'Michael Hofmann is to be congratulated on resurrecting Roth as the Everyman of Emigration' --Literary Review

`A superb edition ... these letters give us great insight into one of the outstanding writers of the 20th century' --Jewish Chronicle

`Hofmann has once again added hugely to our knowledge of a great and uncompromising truth-teller' --Times Literary Supplement

'Roth's artistic duty was always to the truth; his remarkable letters are no different' --Independent on Sunday

'With excellent biographical essays, these letters prove the ideal medium to get to know a man who resisted conventional biography' --Guardian

'Hofmann's selection offers a portrait of Roth that is funny, touching and sometimes distressing' --Independent

About the Author

Joseph Roth (1894 - 1939) was the great elegist of the cosmopolitan, tolerant and doomed Central European culture that flourished in the dying days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Born into a Jewish family in Galicia, on the eastern edge of the empire, he was a prolific political journalist and novelist. On Hitler's assumption of power, he was obliged to leave Germany and he died in poverty in Paris. Michael Hofmann is the highly acclaimed translator of Joseph Roth, Wolfgang Koeppen, Kafka, and Brecht and the author of several books of poems and book of criticism. He has translated nine previous books by Joseph Roth. He lives in London and Hamburg.


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Format: Hardcover
Translation is, in many ways, a silent art. Yet Michael Hofmann, one of today's greatest German-to-English translators, is a particularly vocal exponent. His vituperative attack on Stefan Zweig in the London Review of Books in 2010 prompted applause and appalled reactions in equal measure. Yet reading the correspondence between Zweig and Joseph Roth in his new translation of Roth's letters, it's easy to see why Hofmann would feel such antipathy towards the oh-so-Gemütlich Zweig. Their correspondence provides a major episode in a brilliant volume. It will hopefully pave the way to a full biographical account.

Having been a supple but silent conduit for many great writers - Roth, Kafka, Brecht and, more recently, Fallada - Hofmann proffers his own vivid commentary in this new Granta publication. His notes and introductions are chatty, littered with sub-clauses and asides. Some notes can be misleading - 'Venice in the air today' apparently refers to an attraction in Vienna's Prater, though Roth's text doesn't support such a reading. Other turns of phrase in the translation, such as 'use your loaf' (originally from cockney rhyming slang) lack the necessary original. But these are minor discrepancies in what is a lively account and a typically readable translation.

Hofmann leads us through Roth's extraordinary career and even more extraordinary times. The first mention of The Radetsky March - a novel previously translated by Hofmann - appears in a letter to Zweig, which includes Roth's remarkable protestation that 'objectivity is filth'. Written in 1930, at the height of Weimar 'Sachlichkeit', the claim shows Roth as much out of as in his own time. It is quickly followed by a meek and mild letter to his mother-in-law.
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Format: Hardcover
I've always been moved by writers whose books were burnt by the Nazis, perhaps the most heinous attack on literature one can imagine. The Jewish Joseph Roth was one such writer. Add the fact that as a consequence he descended into despair and alcoholism before finally dying penniless and you have the ingredients for a profound life story - though clearly not a cheery one. It is told in this collection of over four hundred letters (both his and some he received) spanning three decades.

Reflective and self-aware, the letters vividly capture not just Roth the man and writer but also the milieu he was living in and its steady ensnarement by the Nazi regime. As he notes in one of the final letters, `Hell reigns' in Germany. He also spends a lot of time snipping at other writers - Gide and Mann don't come off particularly well, though Stefan Zweig does better. With tragedy also striking at Roth's wife this is a sombre and dark collection of letters, often full of self-pity, and only occasionally lightened by more humorous anecdotes.

The translation, by Michael Hoffman, is faultless and he also includes an exemplary introduction.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
very good gave a fascinating into europe ain the nineteen twentiesnd in particular Germany and roth himselintroduced by a friend
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9e148cfc) out of 5 stars 7 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e315e10) out of 5 stars "I demand too much--too much literature of myself, too much humanity of others." 19 Jan. 2012
By R. M. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A great and prodigious writer, highly principled, conservative, pessimistic, ornery, chronically impoverished but munificent, artistically elitist, spirited and restless, driven and demanding, and a self-destructive alcoholic -- Joseph Roth was all of those things. He also was one of the most remarkable figures of the Twentieth Century. To me he personifies the tragic immolation of a culture and civilization that was the work of the Third Reich. Since first reading his masterpiece, "The Radetzky March", I have wanted to read a biography of Roth, but there is none in English. Now we finally have a book that, although not quite a perfect substitute for a first-rate biography, does provide an in-depth and nuanced portrayal of Roth, usually in his own words. And within its own genre, it is a first-rate book of letters.

JOSEPH ROTH: A LIFE IN LETTERS consists of 457 letters, perhaps 75% of which were authored by Roth, the remainder being letters sent to him. Twelve of the letters are from 1911 to 1924. The rest are from 1925 to January 1939, a few months before Roth died from alcohol. Roth's most frequent correspondent in these letters, by far, is Stefan Zweig. Other notable correspondents include Ernst Krenek, Klaus Mann, and Hermann Hesse.

Many of the letters deal with the mundane affairs and annoyances of being a working - extremely hard-working -- journalist and novelist. Some deal with matters of his personal life, including the hardships and grief associated with his wife's descent into schizophrenia. (She was eventually institutionalized and, the year after Roth's death, she was eradicated pursuant to the Nazis' euthanasia program.) Many letters show Roth scrambling or cadging for money. And some of them address his drinking. For example:

"Don't worry about my drinking, please. It's much more likely to preserve me than destroy me. I mean to say, yes, alcohol has the effect of shortening one's life, but it staves off immediate death. And it's the staving off of immediate death that concerns me, not the lengthening of my life."

What caused his drinking - caused him to drink himself to death - was the German destruction of first its own and then European civilization, a process that, for Roth, began with the conclusion of WWI and was only accelerated and intensified by the Nazis. And it is Roth's ongoing commentary about that process that makes A LIFE IN LETTERS not only an important book about Joseph Roth but also a notewothy historical document of the Twentieth Century.

Roth was startlingly prescient about the Nazis. Less than three weeks after Hitler was appointed Chancellor, Roth wrote Stefan Zweig: "[W]e are headed for a new war. I wouldn't give a heller for our prospects. The barbarians have taken over. Do not deceive yourself. Hell reigns." Two months later, he writes: "This `national renewal' will go to the extremes of madness. It takes exactly the same form as what the psychiatrists term manic depression." Still the same year (1933): "There is a fight to the death between European civilization and Prussia."

And, indeed, what Roth (born a Jew in eastern Europe) saw imperiled by the Nazis was Western civilization, not just the Jews, though he foresaw that too. "The Jews are not the only ones they are out to get. Even though they--as ever--are the ones that raise the most piteous lament. The onslaught this time is against European civilization, against humanity * * *." To Roth, anti-Semitism was but "a little spoke in the [Nazis'] great wheel of bestiality."

Roth implored Stefan Zweig and just about everyone else he wrote to be realistic about what was going on, and to cry out and to fight with all possible means. He detested any and all attempts at conciliation and, especially, efforts to salvage some wealth or business by brokering deals with the Nazis. He is like Cassandra, and as his prophecy comes ever closer to realization, Roth grows increasingly desperate, and vitriolic, and drunk. (Nearly two years before the bitter end, Roth wrote Stefan Zweig, "I take more time dying than I ever had living.")

Unlike most contemporary intellectuals who opposed the Nazis, neither Communism nor Western democracy was, for Roth, the preferred alternative. "I don't believe in the perfection of bourgeois democracy, but I don't doubt for a second the narrowness of a proletarian dictatorship." By the mid-1930's Roth's fervent wish was for a return of the Habsburgs and the Dual Monarchy. "I am an old Austrian officer. I love Austria. I view it as cowardice not to use this moment to say the Habsburgs must return."

And then there is Roth on himself. Here is one version: "I am a Frenchman from the East, a Humanist, a rationalist with religion, a Catholic with a Jewish intelligence, an actual revolutionary. What an oddity!" A little more seriously, three years before he died he wrote the sentence I use as the title for this review.

Michael Hofmann has translated these letters with his usual consummate skill. In addition, he provides via judicious footnotes a light editorial gloss as well as about twenty pages of text that serve as introductions to the various stages of Roth's career. Those introductions are superb. Here is how he ends the first: "As I read and translated, and reread and retranslated, I was repeatedly reminded of a couple of lines of Goethe's "Faust" - "wer immer strebend sich bemüht, den können wir erlösen," roughly, whoever strenuously endeavors, him can we rescue. No more strenuous trier before the Lord than Joseph Roth." Amen.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e80fbb8) out of 5 stars The Tragic Fog That Shrouds Writers 21 Jan. 2012
By Christian Schlect - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Those interested in the life struggles of the talented writer Joseph Roth during the 1920-30s will enjoy this nicely edited book of letters. A good number of these are to or from Stefan Zweig, another noted European writer and patron of the perennially hard-up Roth.

Most of these letters are short complaints about uncaring publishers, cries for financial help, anguish over the ever-present need to write, or laments about his health.

However, Joseph Roth on larger matters saw clearly during a time of great political upheaval. He foretold the evil of Hitler but also rejected Stalin.

His advice (p.496): "Show equanimity to the world and give what you have in the way of goodness to three or four individuals, not to 'humankind.'"
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e80f750) out of 5 stars A Masterpiece in Every Respect 19 Jan. 2012
By M.B. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book will make you yearn for an era when beautifully-crafted sentences mattered and people communicated thoughtfully with one another in hand-written letters. Joseph Roth's correspondence is hauntingly poignant with razor-sharp insights. Thank you, Mr. Hofmann, for your loving translation. My life has been enriched.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e80f51c) out of 5 stars A sombre, profound collection of letters 30 April 2012
By Elke Notlit - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I've always been moved by writers whose books were burnt by the Nazis, perhaps the most heinous attack on literature one can imagine. The Jewish Joseph Roth was one such writer. Add the fact that as a consequence he descended into despair and alcoholism before finally dying penniless and you have the ingredients for a profound life story - though clearly not a cheery one. It is told in this collection of over four hundred letters (both his and some he received) spanning three decades.

Reflective and self-aware, the letters vividly capture not just Roth the man and writer but also the milieu he was living in and its steady ensnarement by the Nazi regime. As he notes in one of the final letters, `Hell reigns' in Germany. He also spends a lot of time snipping at other writers - Gide and Mann don't come off particularly well, though Stefan Zweig does better. With tragedy also striking at Roth's wife this is a sombre and dark collection of letters, often full of self-pity, and only occasionally lightened by more humorous anecdotes.

The translation, by Michael Hoffman, is faultless and he also includes an exemplary introduction.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Alexander Tumanov - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Joseph Roth, Life in Letters -- Verified Purchase Amazon.com

For years I wanted to read a biography of Joseph Roth. It wasn't available in English and I am not sure it is now. A Life in Letters offered me more than any biography could. Now I know not only events of the life of the great author but every nuance of his personality, and the developments of Roth's relations with the world. The book is masterfully compiled and translation by Michael Hoffmann is above all pra'ise. There is no doubt of its precision and the reader is rewarded with live, idiomatic English. 5 stars.
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