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4.5 out of 5 stars
The Emperor's Tomb
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 February 2015
Like the Austrian -Hungarian Empire just before the start of the First World War, our narrator Franz Trotter is a being whose fate is being shaped by forces unseen and unknown, ultimately leading to despair and disillusion. Trotter has been born into a well-connected family which has seen better days. He lacks purpose and any inclination to find one. He is not selfish enough to be truly cynical nor sufficiently mature to admit to finer feelings. Everything he does it seems is done without much thought and so when he joins the army inevitable problems result. Strangely our narrator somehow keeps going, despite it all.

'The Emperor's Tomb' is a short book, additively readable and highly memorable. The characters and situations ring true. The bankrupt aristocrats, the scheming hucksters, the toiling ordinary folk and the bizarre 'artists' all could be people that we might expect to encounter in this mixed-up broken post war world. The book ends on a desperately haunting note, the Anschluss.

A brilliant book. Highly recommended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 February 2012
The book gives us vignettes of Vienna before and after the First World War. The narrator is the young Slovene-born aristocrat von Trotta, named Franz Josef in honour of the revered Emperor, and in his attitudes alienated by everything that is modern and post-Habsburg. He valued the heterogeneity of the Empire. Before the war he had lived in the circle of his mostly pleasure-loving, frivolous and cynical equals, who would mock anyone who expressed deep feelings, like love, for example; so he had then to keep to himself his love for Elizabeth, the daughter of a Hungarian count. Not that he shares all the attitudes of his circle. For example he is not antisemitic; and when, on the recommendations of Joseph Branco, Trotta's working-class cousin, a Jewish Galician coachman called Manes Reisiger calls on him and asks him to help his gifted violinist son to get a place in the music conservatory, Trotta knows just the influential man to turn to - a Polish nobleman who has a proprietorial interest in "his" Jews and who delights in annoying the antisemites precisely by getting him this position. Trotta actually accepts an invitation from the grateful Jew to stay in his house in Galicia, and feels very much at home there, as he does in all parts of the Empire. While he is there, the First World War breaks out.

Trotta, Joseph and Manes all enrol; but unlike those who accept the war with a kind of gaiety, these three feel the wings of death. So alienated did Trotta feel from the light-heartedness of the comrades of the smart Viennese battalion with whom he had done his reserve duty that he enlisted in the more plebeian regiment which Joseph and Manes had joined on the Russian front. He has one day in which to take leave of his mother (his relationship with her is an important part of the book) and to marry in haste - dramatic scenes both, powerfully described. He joins the regiment while it is in retreat from the Russians, and the three friends are soon taken prisoner and sent to prisoner-of-war camp in Siberia. The account of their journey and stay there is again most memorable.

He returns to a Vienna which is no longer the capital of a multi-ethnic empire; where there is no money, where titles have disappeared, where there are new art forms and new sexual mores (though surely these had made themselves felt before the war?). He has no real job, though he is on the meager payroll of an unsuccessful arts-and-crafts business run by his wife, her lesbian partner and her father. They are forced to turn their big house into a boarding-house, albeit that their lodgers are all old friends of theirs, who are also all in financial difficulties. Even so, for a few pages he is happy, wonderfully thrilled to become a father. Then the household disintegrates, and he once again feels a stranger in the new world, on leave from death (as he has felt ever since the beginning of the war), so alienated that he never reads the papers. But suddenly and rather abruptly we find ourselves in 1934, with the Dollfuss government crushing "Red Vienna"; a few pages on and we are in 1938 and the Nazis have taken over. The book ends with him desolately paying his respects at the Emperor's Tomb.
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on 7 June 2015
I read this in conjunction with, and after, Joseph Roth's Radetzky March prior to going on holiday to Slovenia in order to get an idea of the situation in the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the disaster of the Great War. Those that know say this this is the product of a man with declining health and abilities but reading it immediately after the earlier novel it struck me as being as good. But do read The Radetzky March first. See my review of The Radetzky March
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on 3 August 2016
The more you read Roth, the more you want to read him, and there are some unforgettable vignettes of the First World War here and of its disastrous aftermath or peace or defeat in Vienna. All the characters are fully formed, and there is a very strong sense that Roth is writing in haste as the world goes to hell into the ugliness of Neue Sachlichkeit, adventurers. swindlers, and then the gauleiters sound the death knoll of cafe society and everything else, 'as if they had come up from the toilets.'
And here come the far right in Austria once again.
Michael Hofmann, best of translators, makes one feel one is reading the original. Roth and him seem made for each other.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 September 2003
The Radetzky March, which precedes this book, is a big, fully conceived novel of the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with memorable and unique characters from the von Trotta family, vivid description, and narrative and thematic unity. The Emperor's Tomb, by contrast, is an incomplete outline, lifeless, cold, and mournful. Continuing the story of the Trotta family, this time concentrating on a branch of the family which did not receive a title or its privileges, Roth attempts to bring Austrian history from World War I up to 1938, the year of the book's publication.
In 1914 Franz Ferdinand Trotta is a young man with no real goals, other than pleasure. When the Emperor declares war, he becomes a soldier on the Eastern front and, very quickly, a prisoner of war sent to Siberia. Upon his eventual release and return to Vienna after the war, he finds the monarchy gone, the financial system in disarray, and his personal life in tatters. What remains--and never changes--is Trotta's lack of direction, his lack of purpose, and, most distressingly, his lack of motivation regarding his future.
Trotta's refusal to recognize that he can and must now assume power over his own life leaves the reader with a character for whom there can be no epiphany and no real climax. Trotta is a throw-back, insisting even twenty years after the war, "I still belong to a palpably vanished world, a world in which it seem[s] plain that a people exists to be ruled and that, therefore, if it wishes to continue being a people it cannot rule itself." Though the political situation in post-war Vienna, leading to the rise of Hitler, could have led to a chilling, dramatic story, Roth steers clear of this, choosing instead to memorialize the vanished past by giving us a character whose failure to adapt to change reflects some of the very characteristics which destroyed the empire he mourns. Mary Whipple
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on 15 December 2014
Well written book by a vey good writer. The story relates to period of the first world war and the end of the Austrian Hungarian Empire and the consequences to the life of people from different levels of society.
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on 9 September 2017
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on 26 April 2015
Excellent portraat of a begone area, what we should appreciate and thinh how much we have lost. Twilight not only of an empire but os an entire way of life
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on 23 March 2017
A quality paperback. Granta alwys good.
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on 19 October 2015
Next day delivery - on a Sunday! Very impressive.
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