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The Spider's Web Paperback – 30 Nov 2004

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (30 Nov. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862076766
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862076761
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 0.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 711,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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. His novels include What I Saw, The Legend of the Holy Drinker, Right and Left, The Emperor's Tomb, The String of Pearls and The Radetzky March, all published by Granta.


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Format: Paperback
This is Josef Roth's first novel. It originally appeared in instalments in a Vienna paper for which he wrote at the time, and the last instalment appeared three days before Hitler's Munich Beerhall Putsch in 1923.

It has achieved renown because it is said to be so prescient about what lay in store for Germany. I am not sure that there is anything prophetic about the book. The völkisch, anti-democratic, anti-Weimar, anti-Semitic groups were already in full spate when the book was being written, and what Roth does, in the figure of ex-Lieutenant Theodor Lohse, is to give us one type of individual who was attracted to these movements and rose fast within them: an inadequate but ambitious man who had loved the army, could not settle back into civilian life, was resentful and hate-filled as a result and looking for scapegoats in democrats, socialists, communists and Jews. So he is easily drawn, first into a secret organization of the radical right and then into the Nazi Party itself. He makes his way upwards by denouncing an old army acquaintance and fellow right-winger as a communist to his superior, being an accessory to having him murdered (and then himself murdering the murderer whom he hated and whose place in the organization he would inherit); by making his name as an extreme journalist in an extreme nationalist paper; by becoming a vigorous orator; by gathering around him a group of young thugs who violently and brutally break up meetings of which they disapprove; by organizing murderous strike breaking; by infiltrating the Reichswehr; and by eventually being taken into the government as a chief of security. In this capacity he organizes the roundup and torture of more suspects. And he becomes increasingly paranoid, which further fuels his excesses.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8c879eb8) out of 5 stars 3 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8c995d50) out of 5 stars Ideas Over Words 17 Mar. 2010
By Gio - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"The Spider's Web" was serialized in a magazine in Vienna in 1923. Since its subject is the rise to power of thuggish Hitlerism, it stands as prime evidence of Joseph Roth's comprehension and prescience. No wonder the man was depressed and prone to alcoholism, when he foresaw the catastrophe of the coming decades so acutely! "Web" is a novella of about 100 pages, the story of a "fair-haired, industrious, well-behaved" but thoroughly mediocre boy, Theodore Lohse, who survives soldiering in World War I to discover a society that has no particular niche for him to fill. Lohse has two gifts: an inordinate ambition and an exceptionally flexible conscience. To call him an anti-hero would be flattery; he is a despicable villain, a murderer, a liar and betrayer of 'friends', a master of kiss-up-kick-down opportunism, and in Mittel Europa post-WW1, bound to rise with the tide of criminality. Anti-Semitism is his most consistent ideal, but ironically he becomes entrapped himself in the web of an equally unscrupulous Jewish operator, Benjamin Lenz. Theodore is fatuous enough to consider Benjamin a sincere friend; Benjamin is out to destroy Theodore and any other German he can outwit, a kind of vengeful stalker of fools. In the end, it's Benjamin who turns out to have both a more worthy goal - the salvation of his own family - and a clearer perception of impending reality. Such is the odd power of empathy in fiction that the reader finds him/herself engaged with the odious Lohse, and concerned for his outcome. This novella ends abruptly and inconclusively, so that it has been considered "unfinished". I would dispute that idea. Remember the times when it was written, for the 'conclusion' of Lohse's story was implicit and inexorable; the real conclusion wouldn't occur until 1945, six years after Joseph Roth's death. I can't imagine a more potent ending for this novella than what you'll find on its last page.

Lohse achieves the notice he craves by a kind of luck. He is sent by the Party to crush a rural workers' agitation - an assignment he knows is intended to squeeze him out of the important action - but he turns events in his favor by ruthless blood-letting. Times are cruel in the countryside, and Roth is supremely eloquent in describing them: ""Spring strode over Germany like a smiling murderer. Those who survived the huts, escaped the round-ups, were not touched by the bullets of the National Citizens' League nor the clubs of the Nazis, those who were not stuck down by hunger at home and those whom spies had forgotten, died on the road, and clouds of crows cruised over their corpses.""

Next to Roth's acknowledged masterpiece, the novel The Radetsky March, his shorter works strike me as equally significant, both for their historical evocations and insights, and for their literary merits as depictions of flesh-and-blood mortal beings. Joseph Roth is one of those writers who should have won the Nobel Prize but didn't, possibly because the lens through which he viewed humanity was too clear and too precisely refracted, with all the astigmatisms of illusion corrected.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8c9737ec) out of 5 stars Early Weimar troubles 16 Mar. 2010
By H. Schneider - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Joseph Roth's first published novel from 1923 is set in Berlin. His hero Lohse is a frustrated WW1 veteran, who finds it hard to swallow defeat and humiliation, and who finds it equally hard to find a footing in the turmoil of the Weimar times. He drifts more and more to right wing fantasies and conspiracy theories. He finds contact to groups and secret organizations. He is sent under cover to infiltrate leftist groups and spy on them. He starts writing aggressive articles for anti-Semitic papers. He is sexually abused by his bosses in the Nazi milieu. He volunteers for a `Fememord' against a friend whom he had betrayed himself. (A Fememord was the assassination of traitors, very popular among right wing nuts at the time. The left wing nuts used other words.) He leads a group of men to Pommerania, where Polish farm workers are striking. The strike is suppressed violently and Lohse acquires some `fame'. He begins to doubt his convictions and considers changing side. Spying and betraying becomes his core business.

Roth had a very personal style with short and sometimes surprising sentences. He had this style already in this beginning. However, there were also quite a few `mistakes' in his writing, i.e. grammatical and orthographical errors, which the editor might have helped to eliminate. Some of the sentences are clumsy. (`Lohse exceeded the expectations in himself that he never had'. If you don't like this sentence, neither do I like the German original.)
Roth had the habit of working fast and not spending much time on perfecting his writing. He generally wrote short novels. The effect was often, that his books were more like drafts for larger books. This is clearly the case with the Spiderweb. It contains the core of a good novel, but it is not one.

Still it is worth reading for 2 reasons:
First, the language is a treat, despite its flaws.
Second, the psychology of the loser who becomes dangerous. I think calling this novel `prophetic', as the pocket bock cover text does, is quite justified. The book came out early in the Weimar years, even before the failed Munich coup that propelled Hitler to a comfortable jail cell and national fame.
People like Lohse were the material of the rising brown pest tsunami that would carry Germany away 10 years later. Between the end of WW1 and the 1933, there was a large mass of aimless and rootless individuals floating around the turbulent society, waiting to settle somewhere. Many of them must have changed sides more than once.
Roth's Lohse is a brilliant but too brief study of the mind of one such man. I give it 5 stars because my enthusiasm with its strengths overwhelmed my critical concerns.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8cb379c0) out of 5 stars A Portrait of an early Nazi 6 Mar. 2012
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is Josef Roth's first novel. It originally appeared in instalments in a Vienna paper for which he wrote at the time, and the last instalment appeared three days before Hitler's Munich Beerhall Putsch in 1923.

It has achieved renown because it is said to be so prescient about what lay in store for Germany. I am not sure that there is anything prophetic about the book. The völkisch, anti-democratic, anti-Weimar, anti-Semitic groups were already in full spate when the book was being written, and what Roth does, in the figure of ex-Lieutenant Theodor Lohse, is to give us one type of individual who was attracted to these movements and rose fast within them: an inadequate but ambitious man who had loved the army, could not settle back into civilian life, was resentful and hate-filled as a result and looking for scapegoats in democrats, socialists, communists and Jews. So he is easily drawn, first into a secret organization of the radical right and then into the Nazi Party itself. He makes his way upwards by denouncing an old army acquaintance and fellow right-winger as a communist to his superior, being an accessory to having him murdered (and then himself murdering the murderer whom he hated and whose place in the organization he would inherit); by making his name as an extreme journalist in an extreme nationalist paper; by becoming a vigorous orator; by gathering around him a group of young thugs who violently and brutally break up meetings of which they disapprove; by organizing murderous strike breaking; by infiltrating the Reichswehr; and by eventually being taken into the government as a chief of security. In this capacity he organizes the roundup and torture of more suspects. And he becomes increasingly paranoid, which further fuels his excesses.

The writing is graphic and powerful; but the story is not always clear. Strange also that one of Lohse's superiors (not the one he murdered) is an antisemitic Jew; even more surprising is the Polish Jew Benjamin Lenz, a shady informant and double agent in whom Lohse places his utmost trust, but whom, a few pages from the end, he discovers photocopying his documents. The book ends abruptly with Benjamin arranging the flight out of Germany of his own brother (who has not previously been mentioned in the book); he says that maybe he will follow him. We don't know whether he does, or anything about the future of Lohse after his discovery.
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