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The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth

The Radetzky March (1932)

by Joseph Roth

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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Joseph Roth's novel takes its name from a march by Johann Strauss Senior who composed the rollicking tune, and a hundred years ago you could hear it in market towns the length and breadth of the Empire. The story follows the destiny of a family of humble Slovenian origins who rise to prominence through valor on the battlefield. Ennobled by the Emperor, the Trottas become part of the establishment, but by this stage, the cosmopolitan empire is beginning to come apart at the seams. The author's ability to evoke a sense of place, and Michael Hofmann's translation present the novel to wonderfully lyrical effect. The whole work has a dream-like quality, but there is a brooding sense of foreboding. Much of the The Radetzky March is focused on Carl von Trotta, who on joining the army, struggles to live up to the legend of his grandfather. The novel is peopled with memorable characters, such as the nonchalant Polish Count Chojnacki and the troubled Doctor Demant. Even some of the peripheral figures are beautifully sketched, such as Lieutenant Taittinger, 'whose single passion in life was the consumption of pastries.' The decline in the Trotta family that is so exquisitely presented mirrors a similar decline in the fortunes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By the time of Carl the empire had frayed at its edges and was a mess after the First World War. The Radetzky March is far more than an exercise in mawkish sentimentality, and the Habsburg regime is not given a white-washing. Roth was largely a forgotten figure for several decades, and this, his most acclaimed novel, was rarely cited by Western academics. However, when Michael Hofmann published the current translation, writers queued up to hail The Radetzky March as one of the great European novels of the twentieth century - some consolation for the embattled author, who died tragically at the advent of war in 1939. But much consolation for readers like myself who were able to discover this author and include him in our personal pantheon of great twentieth century authors. ( )
2 vote jwhenderson | Mar 19, 2017 |
This novel moves forward with all the drama of shifting tectonic plates: everything looks unchanging and permanent but the almost undetectable underlying drift causes the pressure to build, build, build until the climactic release and everything that appeared permanent is no more. Roth's style, a slightly odd but enjoyable mix of sentiment and satire, captures this inexorable movement very effectively. 9 February 2017 ( )
1 vote alanca | Feb 9, 2017 |
Slow paced but full of memorable scenes. Roth is a master in composing scenes in which every detail expresses the mood and meaning of that scene, like Flaubert although Roth is less compact in his writing. Definitely a masterpiece worth rereading for its language and those scenes. ( )
1 vote stef7sa | Jan 5, 2017 |
Roth's epic is a kind of Brideshead revisited for Hapsburg Austria, an unlikely mix of satire and sentiment that comes together to create a glorious epic in which the rise and fall of the Trotta family - raised from insignificance to the nobility by the chance of one military defeat and extinguished by another - is set against the decline and fall of the improbable and heterogeneous empire ruled over by Franz Joseph. Roth has a penetrating eye for the absurdities of official and military life and the peculiar deformation of language that goes with them. When District-governor Trotta is explaining his worries about his son to a friend, Roth notes how he presents them like an official report: "Er teilte gewissermaßen seine Sorgen in Haupt- und Untersorgen." (He essentially divided his troubles into main and sub-troubles). And the scene where Captain Trotta goes to the Emperor to complain about a distorted patriotic pastiche of his little act of heroism that has found its way into the official schoolbooks is as brilliant and memorable as the descriptions of the appalling Sunday lunches at the District-governor's house. But Roth clearly has a very deep affection for the stubborn older generations of the Trotta family and for the old Emperor whose life theirs seem to parallel in so many ways, and uses the background of stultifying formality to make their little moments of humanity stand out more.

The youngest Trotta, the cynical army lieutenant Carl Joseph, isn't quite as engaging a character as his father and grandfather, only coming to vivid life in the moments when Roth projects his own alcoholism onto him. He's there mostly to give us a sceptical point of view on the other characters, and to illustrate the paradox that the Austrian army, which is still one of the most important elements uniting the country, exists only to fight the war which everyone knows will destroy the country and the imperial family.

A wonderful, beautifully written, absorbing book, that almost makes you want to be able to believe in Roth's quixotic Habsburgophilia... ( )
2 vote thorold | Oct 9, 2016 |
"A word, a word so easily spoken; it is not spoken."

I am developing a minor obsession with the literature of the 19th and early 20th century Hapsburg Empire, and I can't quite put my finger on why, or how it started, unless it was when I read about Robert Musil in Philip Ball's amazing Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another. Ball's interest was in Musil's unfinished two-volume novel, The Man Without Qualities, and its depiction of a mathematician's dispassion for the world, which doesn't sound terribly promising on the face of it, does it? But it's quite an engaging read nonetheless, and one that I look forward to re-reading again soon; I'm a Robert Musil fan (see also my look last year at Musil's first novel, The Confusions of Young Torless, from last year), loving his way of examining moral and social paralysis and its consequences, as well as how his German prose becomes English.

The (delightfully!) occasionally ornithological Radetzky March* both does and not partake these qualities (or, I guess, lack of qualities) as it details the misadventures of three generations of the Trotta family: a grandfather ennobled as a reward for sort of blunderingly saving Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph's life in battle, a son whom the new Baron forces into a civil service instead of a military career**, and a grandson who takes up the family's military mantle again, only to very nearly disgrace it.

But this makes it sound like The Radetzky March is a book in which things happen, and really, it's not. It's more a book in which things are felt and perceived, and what is perceived is mostly that the Empire is in a period of stasis and stagnation, a period in which the gloss of civilization is polished to a blinding brightness, the better to conceal the turmoil it hides, the turmoil of an empire that purports to bind a staggering variety of cultures, religions and ethnicities into one people*** but really hasn't, except in that all those different peoples are temporarily too busy buffing and polishing (under some duress) to get on with the business of being themselves and hating each other. But don't worry, they'll get around to it. Boy, will they get around to it.

But even that makes it sound like stuff is happening. Which is erroneous. I mean, these people don't even eat:
"The baron had a bizarre relationship with food. He ate the most important morsels with his eyes, so to speak; his sense of beauty consumed above all the essence of the food -- its soul, as it were; the vapid remainders that then reached mouth and palate were boring and had to be wolfed down without delay."
"He was sorry that Trotta had missed the schnitzel. He would have gladly chewed a second one for the lieutenant -- or at least watched it being eaten with gusto."
Nor do they ever really seem to talk to each other, especially not the Trottas. Especially not the youngest Trotta, who is constantly struggling over whether or not to utter even the most banal pleasantry: "Carl Joseph almost replied reverently 'Good evening, Herr Doctor!' But all he said was 'May I?' and sat down."

And things get worse when young Lieutenant Carl Joseph Trotta (the grandson), posted to a border village whose chief employer is a bristle factory, suddenly faces his duty as a soldier to put down an insurrection at said factory. He insists to a colleague that he "simply won't order the men to shoot!" because he now realizes that the factory workers are "poor devils" but another tells him "You'll do what you have to, you know you will." And what he has to do right away is get drunk... And do things improve from there?
"Immense files swelled around the Trotta case, and the files grew, and every department in every agency splattered a little more ink on them, the way one waters flowers, to make them grow."
So, uh, not so much, then.

And then there's the dreary love affair and whatnot (in general, women are not well-regarded in Radetzky March, but what are you gonna do? This is a story about a young man raised motherless by, apparently, a motherless son of a military hero, said son spending most of the novel either in military school or in the military. Sausage fests everywhere). Sigh.

But so then why bother to read this stuff at all, you might ask? Because it's good. As a masterful evocation of the spiritual paralysis of an entire society, as a look at the consequences of too much civilization as something that does not require robot butlers and flying cars to happen, as a vivid portrait of the twilight years of Emperor Franz Joseph (who had "lived long enough to know that it is foolish to tell the truth.") and the Hapsburg Empire just before the outbreak of World War I****, and, yes, as an exquisite piece of writing for its own sake -- as all of these things, The Radetzky March is a very, very good book.

*The book's title comes from a piece of music by Johann Strauss, Sr., which a military band plays outside of the grandfather's house every Sunday to salute their local hero.

As for my characterization of Radetzky March as occasionally ornithological, dude, it is loaded with references to birds, from a servant's caged canary to the different birds singing outdoors in every season in Austria and the empire -- a very charming touch. Seriously. More birds than anything I've read this year that wasn't by Michael Chabon. Birds signal changes in scene and setting and sometimes provide the strongest of dramatic counterpoints (hello, wild geese and Russian ravens!). This is wonderful!

**The grandfather's insistence that the son have any career but military stems from a misunderstanding regarding a children's history book that presents a tarted up version of how the grandfather saved the Emperor's life, to which the grandfather takes great but ultimately ineffectual umbrage in one of the more bitterly humorous sections of the novel.

***All in the service of allowing the Hapsburgs, once Holy Roman Emperors and lords over most of Europe in one form or another, to feel like they still had an Empire and were still a relevant power in world affairs, big terrifying inbred jaws and all (though yes, I'll admit to having been a little sad when they finally had to cut down the Sisipalm in 2008).

Oh, and check out the people, as seen through the eyes of a somewhat minor character, Count Chojnicki:
"The German Austrians were waltzers and boozy crooners, the Hungarians stank, the Czechs were born bootlickers, the Ruthenians were treacherous Russians in disguise, the Croats and Slovenes, whom he called Cravats and Slobbers, were brushmakers and chestnut roasters, and the Poles, of whom he himself was one after all, were skirt chasers, hairdressers and fashion photographers."
So, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was basically the Golgafrincham B Ark, then?

****Weirdly, it was only when the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was communicated (very dramatically) that it hit home for me that the events of this novel were taking place in the 20th century. The book otherwise feels so timeless, so universal, that a particular historical event's depiction, even second-hand as happens here, is really jarring, but not in a bad way. Just a wow way. ( )
1 vote KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (78 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roth, Josephprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brodersen, KarlMedarb.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Charles, KentTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dunlop, GeoffreyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dyer, PeterCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foà, LucianoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fučíková, JitkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hofmann, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Neugroschel, JoachimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Terreni, LauraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tucker, EvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wielek-Berg, W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winkler, JohanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winkler-Vonk, AnnieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The Trottas were not an old family.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Translated by Geoffrey Dunlop and published by William Heinemann London in 1934. under the title 'Radetzky March'.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679451005, Hardcover)

Joseph Roth's 1932 novel, The Radetzky March, starts with an accident that creates a dynasty. When an infantry lieutenant steps in front of a bullet intended for the young Franz Joseph, the Austro-Hungarian emperor rewards him with wealth, promotion, and a knighthood. Almost overnight, Joseph Trotta is "severed" from his ancestors, and his family is transformed from unremarkable soldiers and peasants living in the outer reaches of the empire to barons and high-ranking officials living near the imperial palace. As long as Franz Joseph is the Kaiser, their status is secure. But when Trotta happens upon a schoolbook account of the event that exaggerates his heroism, he is shaken:
He had been driven from the paradise of simple faith in Emperor and Virtue, Truth, and Justice, and, now fettered in silence and endurance, he may have realized that the stability of the world, the power of laws, and the glory of majesties were all based on deviousness.
As World War I approaches and the monarchy's limitations become apparent, Trotta's son and grandson become even further removed from this paradise. They continue to follow the codes of honor and duty, though such behavioral guides become pointless, even burdensome, in a world shorn of simple faith in an emperor. Trotta's grandson Carl Joseph finds his military career overwhelmed by bad horsemanship, alcohol dependency, frivolous roulette and baccarat debts, and misguided love affairs--the kinds of flaws, he thinks, that are inevitable without the self-assurance and practical knowledge that he would have gained had he earned (rather than inherited) his position. Not long ago, he thinks wistfully, his family lived as peasants "in dwarfed huts, making their wives fertile by night and their fields by day." It is here that the Trottas' demise is at its most poignant, as the focus of the narrative shifts from the loss of status to the far more devastating loss of purpose.

In both style and temperament, Roth's novel stands between the 19th and 20th centuries, and the three Trottas could be seen as part of a progression that stretches back to Tolstoy's Prince Andrei and looks ahead to the Mathieu of Sartre's Les Chemins de la Liberté trilogy. Although The Radetzky March illustrates why the monarchy was doomed, and isn't blind to the new nations and ideologies on the horizon, Roth is more interested in his characters' psychology than their politics. And their central difficulty--the bewildering meaninglessness that follows the dissolution of an ideal--has been a fundamental 20th-century dilemma. The Trottas are, in Roth's stunning phrase, "homesick for the Kaiser." One need only substitute "the Chairman" or "Marxism" or "God" to understand the novel's lasting resonance. --John Ponyicsanyi

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:29 -0400)

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In 19th century Austria, a peasant is ennobled for saving the emperor's life. His son further elevates the family's name by becoming a civil servant, but the grandson brings it back to square one with gambling and debauchery. A new translation of a classic.… (more)

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