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Weights and Measures (Peter Owen Modern Classic) Paperback – 1 Aug 2002

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Peter Owen; New edition edition (1 Aug. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0720611369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0720611366
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.3 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,223,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

'This small novel is a masterpiece.' - Angela Huth, Listener; 'Weights and Measures gave me the purest reading pleasure... A haunting little book, touched by genius.' - Robert Nye, Guardian; 'A masterly performance.' - Paul Bailey, Evening Standard; 'An absorbing fable, dark, beautifully written and with a physical immediacy in the prose... I want to read more.' - New Statesman; 'Written with the melancholy wit and grace of Gogol... passages of electrifying beauty.' - The Times

About the Author

Joseph Roth has never been more popular. In this late novel - widely praised and rarely available in English - an artillery officer is persuaded by his resentful wife to leave the Austro-Hungarian army to take up a civilian post as Inspector of Weights and Measures in a remote territory near the Russian border. Attempting to exercise some proper rectitude in his trade duties he is soon at a loss in a shadowy world of smugglers, profiteers and petty crooks. Joseph Roth is an important commentator on the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Weights and Measures registers on both an historical and personal level to portray the slow capitulation of a good man and his traditional standards to insidious small-time corruption and to his own destructive passion.


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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Though limited in scope, this book has a touching appeal. It shows Fate wearing down an initially agreeable character on the borderlands of a dying Empire.
Set in Polish Galicia near the Russian border, not far from Roth's home village of Brody in what is now Ukraine, the position of Local Goverment official offers Eibenschutz a new start away from the Army, with wife and child and status.
His concern for propriety, rectitude and justice is initially his strongest virtue, but Roth's theme is the demands such virtues make on our humanity. With telling detail Roth describes Eibenschutz's fall from certainty of purpose down to the level of the semi-bestial and wily peasant Jadlowker, his eventual nemesis. Both the natural world and the rural towns of Austria Hungary offer too much resistance to the civilising impulse.
At just under 150 pages in an excellent translation, it remains recommended reading for me 10 years after I bought it.
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Format: Paperback
NOTE: SOME READERS MAY THINK THAT THIS REVIEW ALREADY GIVES AWAY TOO MUCH.

The wife of Anselm Eibenschütz had forced her husband to leave the Habsburg Army, where he had been very happy, to become a bureaucrat; and he had become an official in a law-breaking and smuggling village near the Russian border. It was his job to check the weights and measures used by the local shopkeepers. The local people had for years either calculated weights and measures in a very rough and ready way or had sometimes deliberately falsified them; and they all saw Eibenschütz who, unlike his predecessor in that post, was efficient, strict and incorruptible, as an intruder, none more so than Leibusch Jadlowker, the Mafia boss who ran the local inn on the frontier, the first port of call for deserters from Russia whose transit had been arranged, for a price, by another crook (who appears in several other novels by Roth), Kapturak.

So Eibenschütz felt hated and lonely, and he resented his wife. They had in any case long ceased to love each other; and he discovered that she was pregnant by another man.

Fallen out of love with his wife, Eibenschütz was bewitched by Jadlowker's mistress, the beautiful gypsy Euphemia Nikitsch....

Well, I really must not give away any more of the story - let us just say that Eibenschütz remains an unhappy person.

By the time Roth wrote this book, he (like Eibenschütz towards the end of this novel) had become an alcoholic - still capable of telling a gripping story, still a master also of describing weather, landscape and sounds, but perhaps no longer able to write with the psychological, historical or symbolical depth of some of his earlier novels such as those I have reviewed earlier on Amazon: The Spider's Web, Job, The Radetsky March, and the Emperor's Tomb (though the last of these was written after Weights and Measures).
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
very good book.many thanks.graham.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars 4 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Our Bisected Lives 26 Mar. 2010
By Gio - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Anselm Eibenschütz's life is rudely bisected in the first chapter of "Das Falsche Gewicht". His first life had been spent as an 'honest soldier' in an artillery regiment, rising slowly through the ranks over twelve years to NCO. Then he married, out of loneliness, left the comforting 'regularity' of army life and became two things he'd never prepared himself to be: a civilian and a 'regulator', the inspector of weights and measures in a remote province on the eastern border between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Russia. There, where everyone lives by smuggling and by cheating each other reciprocally in the scales of life, the good soldier Eibenschütz tries to live by his measured sense of his own integrity. It doesn't work out so easily for him, yet in a sense his second life is richer than his first, as he begins to perceive another side of existence - the "out" side: nature, rain, birds or absence of birds, the seasons, love, the sorrows of others ...

Author Joseph Roth was also a man whose life was bisected. He was born in a Jewish village in remote rural Galicia; he left that pre-modern world and moved to Vienna, to cities of Germany, eventually to Paris. Presumably, at times, he felt some astonishment that he, a thoroughly urban and urbane journalist, should have odd dissociated memories of once being a boy in an extinct time-and-place. That feeling of bifurcation shouldn't be mistaken for nostalgia or for any longing to "go home again". Roth, like others whose biographies have been bisected by modernity, knew that that life that could not be relived, that that place no longer existed. Yet he still existed, with a sense of "wonder" at himself, such as one feels when looking at old black-and-white photos. Quite likely I'm projecting, but I'm sure this sense of a 'bisected life' is extremely common in our times. Of all writers in English, Alice Munro has been most evocative and persuasive in her tales of women, like herself, whose mentalities straddle two lives.

The world of Anselm Eibenschütz, then, is the world of Joseph Roth's previous life. It's not truly a 'lost' world; it exists as long as Roth remembers it... or as long as his literary evocations of it are read. Perhaps this was Roth's primary impulse in writing about his haplessly straight soldier in the crooked borderland of Zlotogrod, simply to report and record. But there are complexities in this simple story, written in such elemental narrative language, like a folk tale, like a "conte" from the pen of Theodor Storm or some other 19th C romancer. Is it possibly a parable, without revealing its self-consciousness? Why are 'weights and measures' so central to the story? Why are the characters given such slyly allegorical names? The wife is 'Regina". The violent innkeeper's name - Leibusch - evokes carnality in German. And how about "Anselm Eibenschütz"? Anselm? What a name for a Moravian artilleryman of Jewish heritage. "Eibe" is German for 'yew', the tree traditionally associated with graveyards, the dark tree one sees in the most tormented paintings of Vincent van Gogh. "Schütz" comes from the German word for 'shoot', but it's also the word for a watchman or guard. Explicating an allusion is a thankless task, but hey. someone has to do it.

That lawless border village, with flux of deserters from the armies of both empires, has been the setting of earlier novels by Roth. The tavern where the nameless and re-named fugitives huddle briefly is effectively the same tavern, and the scoundrel Kapturak who profits from this human traffic is the same scoundrel. Even the names of minor characters, like Mendel Singer, are recycled from other novellas, though they can't possibly be the identical person. Roth doesn't make any of this obvious, but the reader has to suppose he meant something by it. The usual critical consensus is that Roth was not a careful craftsman in his fiction, with the one great exception of his classic "The Radetzky March". Often it's true; a reader will find that a given book is beautifully written but seemingly sketchy, or that it's magically interesting except for 'chapter X', which is tedious and irrelevant. Often one has to rave about the whole while acknowledging flaws in parts.

That's not the case with "Weights and Measures". This is a tightly structured, concise, deftly crafted piece of writing. There isn't a wasted description or an out-of-tune paragraph. Here's a sample, from early in the narrative when Eibenschütz is first encountering his isolation in Zlotogrod: "Sometimes in the night he sat up in bed and contemplated his wife. In the yellowish gleam of the nightlight, which stood on top of the wardrobe and seemed to intensify the darkness in the room by creating a kind of luminous nocturnal aura, the sleeping Frau Eibenschütz looked to her husband like a dried fruit. He sat up in bed and regarded her closely. The longer he looked, the lonelier he felt. It was as if the mere sight of her made him lonely. She did not belong to him, to Anselm Eibenschütz, as she lay there, with her fine breasts and her childish peaceful face ... Desire no longer urged him towards her as it had in earlier nights." What reader, after this revealing description, will not be expecting one of them, wife or husband, to find desire elsewhere?
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, if not as profound as some of his earlier novels 14 Mar. 2012
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
NOTE: SOME READERS MAY THINK THAT THIS REVIEW ALREADY GIVES AWAY TOO MUCH.

The wife of Anselm Eibenschütz had forced her husband to leave the Habsburg Army, where he had been very happy, to become a bureaucrat; and he had become an official in a law-breaking and smuggling village near the Russian border. It was his job to check the weights and measures used by the local shopkeepers. The local people had for years either calculated weights and measures in a very rough and ready way or had sometimes deliberately falsified them; and they all saw Eibenschütz who, unlike his predecessor in that post, was efficient, strict and incorruptible, as an intruder, none more so than Leibusch Jadlowker, the Mafia boss who ran the local inn on the frontier, the first port of call for deserters from Russia whose transit had been arranged, for a price, by another crook (who appears in several other novels by Roth), Kapturak.

So Eibenschütz felt hated and lonely, and he resented his wife. They had in any case long ceased to love each other; and he discovered that she was pregnant by another man.

Fallen out of love with his wife, Eibenschütz was bewitched by Jadlowker's mistress, the beautiful gypsy Euphemia Nikitsch....

Well, I really must not give away any more of the story - let us just say that Eibenschütz remains an unhappy person.

By the time Roth wrote this book, he (like Eibenschütz towards the end of this novel) had become an alcoholic - still capable of telling a gripping story, still a master also of describing weather, landscape and sounds, but perhaps no longer able to write with the psychological, historical or symbolical depth of some of his earlier novels such as those I have reviewed earlier on Amazon: The Spider's Web, Job, The Radetsky March, and the Emperor's Tomb (though the last of these was written after Weights and Measures).
5.0 out of 5 stars Roth Was Able To Portray Great Depth And Insight In Simple Language 8 Jun. 2014
By R. J. Marsella - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Shorter than his other major works, Joseph Roth's Weights and Measures is a novelette that is almost fable like in the portrayal of the downfall of a man who has followed a code all of his life and upon abandoning that code falls deeply and irrevocably into a world dominated by those very people upon whom he had imposed some semblance of order. As an inspector of weights and measures in an area of the former Austo-Hungarian empire bordering on Russia the protagonist is a symbol of government authority in an area given over to smuggling , cheating and theft. Roth's nostalgia for the order of the old ways in personified in the character Eibenschutz who becomes increasingly unmoored from what has sutained him as the story progresses.
Roth was an extremely talented writer and his longer works, The Radesky March and the Emperors Tomb take place in similar circumstances ( in fact several of the characters overlap in this story) but here he has honed his observations into a masterful work of short fiction that has poetic descriptive passages of incredible beauty.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Others were more famous. His fame will last longer 5 Feb. 2010
By H. Schneider - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
My headline is a statement by another writer in exile, about Joseph Roth after he had drunk himself to death in Paris in 1939. He had fled Austria after the `Anschluss', the joyful rejoining of Austria with the big brothers.

One of his last works was this short novel. Properly translated its title would be The False Weight. It is a kind of sequel to Radetzky March. We meet some of the same people again, like policeman Franz Slama, though none from the neo-aristocratic Trotta family of the large novel. We also meet Mendel Singer from Roth's Job. The story is set in the Far East of Kakania, in the same district of Galicia, where Russian deserters hang out before they are shipped elsewhere.

Roth's style was very accessible, one might call it artless. He told a story and sometimes commented on it in the process, as a traditional puppet player would. His simple prose has surprising moments of poetry. It is the language of fairy tales. The book even starts like one: once upon a time...
I have been discussing the question whether Roth was nostalgic about the fallen Austrian and Hungarian double monarchy. In the case of the Radetzky March I denied that. Based on False Weight, I may need to reconsider. There is clearly a case of nostalgia for something that failed: the hope for a workable multinational country without nationalisms. Certainly our hero is nostalgic for his army life, and later for his lost lover.

Our hero is a Moravian ex soldier with the beautiful name Anselm Eibenschuetz. An Eibe is a yew tree, and a Schuetz is a shooter. His unloved wife had convinced him to quit military service and take a government position. Now he is far from home and far from his beloved barracks, in charge of controlling weights and measures, friendless, suspect and unpopularly uncorrupt. Empires need corruption like transmission oil. He represents law and order but can't keep it up. Human weaknesses erode his standing and he drifts into a life of dishonesty, unexpected passion, and bottomless drink. (Inside him burned the liquor when he had drunk, and the longing for it, when he had not.)

This edition is the only one that I could find in English, and there has been no previous reviewer. What a shame.
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