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The Radetzky March (1932)

by Joseph Roth

Other authors: Charles Kent (Translator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,885764,885 (4.16)1 / 334
The Radetzky March, Joseph Roth's classic saga of the privileged von Trotta family, encompasses the entire social fabric of the Austro-Hungarian Empire just before World War I. The author's greatest achievement, The Radetzky March is an unparalleled portrait of a civilization in decline, and as such a universal story for our times.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
Would I read another book by this same author?
Yes, but I would not put effort into hunting one of his books down.

Would I recommend this book?
Yes.

Who would I recommend it to?
People interested in historical fiction that is focused on the life of military families in the period running up to the First World War.

Did this book inspire me to do anything?
I have not done anything yet, but it has urged me to do more reading on the history of Europe in the run-up to WWI.

The book traces the life of three generations of a family, specifically the lives of an artillery sergeant who saves the life of the Emperor, the sergeant's son and grandson. Their lives are used to present the prevailing social structure of the time, and the rules and protocol of both society and the army. Their lives show the nature of the old world order of monarchy, military honour, and upholding the existence of the Empire. Through their lives and careers the reader sees the decline and fall of that world order in the face of various pressures and challenges both within and from beyond the borders of the Empire. This was the time of nationalist ideas becoming stronger, and people starting be feel unhappy with their lot. WWI lasted from 1914 to 1918. This covers a period when revolution was in the air and many monarchies experienced disquiet amongst their people. ( )
  pgmcc | Mar 1, 2024 |
The Radetzky March takes its title from the musical composition authored by Johann Strauss, father of the "waltz king", Strauss, junior. It is a classic military march, that you can hear, and view conducted by Andre Rieu on YouTube. Joseph Radetzky von Radetz was an Austrian marshal of Bohemian descent who fought in the Napoleonic Wars and let the Austrian army during the first war for Italian independence in 1848-49. He died in 1858, roughly a decade before the story that Roth unfolds in the Battle of Solferino in 1869, a failed campaign against the Italians that could be said to be the second major milestone in the decline of the Dual Monarchy led by Kaiser Franz Jospeh I following its defeat by Prussia in 1866 which foreclosed the possibility of German reunification occurring under the leadership of Austria.

Decline is the theme of The Radetzky March. Although, in our times it could be said with more than a little truth that decline is a choice, in Roth's account, the decline of the empire is the result of the movement of historical processes, chiefly the rise of nationalism and the gradual breaking apart of the spiritual bonds that held together the monarchy and the empire. This decline is paralleled by the story of the quick rise and decline of the fortunes of the Trotta family. At the Battle of Solferino in 1869 the youthful Kaiser is saved from a bullet and possible death on the battlefield by a Lt. Joseph Trotta, an officer of Slovenian peasant stock. Trotta is promoted to a captaincy and is, in effect, the recipient of a battlefield promotion to the nobility, henceforth to be known as Joseph Trotta von Sipolje, Baron Trotta.

The Hero of Solferino passes from the scene early on in the story. What he leaves beside his title is a portrait painted by a friend of his son. The portrait, even more so than the march, dominates the persons of his son, a "district captain" which is basically a minor government functionary position, and the grandson, Carl Jospeh Trotta, who is groomed from early in his life for a military career for which he is unsuited. Carl Jospeh is commissioned into the cavalry despite his mediocre horsemanship. Following a fatal confrontation between his only friend in his regiment, the Jewish regimental surgeon and another officer from the nobility for which Trotta was the inadvertent cause, he transfers to a rifle regiment in a remote outpost on the Eastern frontier. Here he falls into patterns of dissolution from the usual causes, drinking, gambling and women. Eventually his debts are called in and he is forced to petition his father, the district commissioner to bail him out of his predicament. The father, unable to borrow the needed funds from any other source petitions the emperor directly. Franz Joseph, vaguely remembering the service to him by the grandfather of our scapegrace, directs that the debts be discharged, and for good measure that the holder of the debt be deported.

At a regimental celebration in the summer of 1914, the rumor of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, is circulated among the officers. Trotta sends in his resignation, but the resulting war brings him back into uniform and he meets his fate at the hands of Russian snipers while trying to retrieve water for his parched troops. The novel concludes with the parallel deaths of the Kaiser and the district commissioner in 1916.

The Radetzky March is a beautifully written, albeit melancholy metaphor for decline - of the empire, the monarchy, the Trotta family. The empire and the Trottas adhere more or less faithfully to the time-honored forms, but the protagonists become gradually aware that the substance underlying the forms have become hollowed out and that the forms are on the verge of extinction. Roth is at his best in his sketches and development of his characters. This excerpt from early in the novel provides a portrait of Carl Jospeh's father Franz, the district commissioner.

"He spoke the nasal Austrian German of higher officials and lesser nobles. It vaguely recalled distant guitars twanging in the night and also the last dainty vibrations of fading bells; it was a soft but also precise language, tender and spiteful at once. It suited the speaker's thin, bony face, his curved, narrow nose, in which the sonorous, somewhat rueful consonants seemed to be lying. His nose and mouth, when the district captain spoke, were more like wind instruments than facial features. Aside from the lips, nothing moved in his face. The dark whiskers that Herr von Trotta wore as part of his uniform, as insignia demonstrating his fealty to Franz Jospeh I, as proof of his dynastic conviction--these whiskers likewise remained immobile when Herr von Trotta und Sipolje spoke. He sat upright at the table, as if clutching reins in his hard hands. When sitting he appeared to be standing, and when rising he always surprised others with his full ramrod height. He always worse dark blue, summer and winter, Sundays and weekdays: a dark-blue jacket with gray striped trousers that lay snug on his long legs and were tautened by straps over the smooth boots. Between the second and third course he would usually get up in order to 'stretch my legs'. But it seemed more as is he wanted to show the rest of the household how to rise, stand, and walk without relinquishing immobility."

The Radetzky March is a masterpiece and a sober meditation on the problem of decline, a problem that confronts his contemporary readers as it confronted the characters of this outstanding work. ( )
  citizencane | Nov 14, 2023 |
Over and over again in reading this book, I was reminded of one of my father's favorite films - "La Grande Illusion" - especially towards the end of the book. Both this novel and that film show, as the blurb puts it, the crumbling of a way of life (really they both show the same loss of a code of behaviour for various classes, particularly that held in military circles). But there is an important distinction between these 2 works: Roth's novel deals with what we would now describe as the middle class while Renoir's film looks at the aristocracy. The Trotta family begin as Slovenian peasants who rise to military officers then a title & advancement in the Empire's bureaucracy only to start descending again. The men of the Trotta family have formal & chilly relationships with each other, which I could speculate about but won't take the time to do now. I felt most sorry for the middle generation Trotta...

This 1995 translation of the novel was very readable. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 27, 2023 |
Published in 1932, this book portrays the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from the perspective of three generations of the Trotta family. It opens in 1859 when Emperor Franz Joseph is almost killed in the Battle of Solferino but is saved by Lt. Joseph Trotta. As a reward, the Emperor bestows an award that carries a noble title, and he becomes Baron Trotta von Sipolje. He is a man of integrity who protests when a fabricated version of his heroism is published in history texts. His son, the second Baron called Herr von Trotta, becomes an administrative official. Herr von Trotta is a devotee of the Empire, but eventually becomes disillusioned. Carl Joseph, son of Herr von Trotta, joins the cavalry. Carl Joseph gets involved in gambling, affairs, and drinking. The downward trajectory of the family mirrors that of Austria-Hungary.

The writing is wonderful. I read the English translation from the original German by Joachim Neugroschel and he has done a marvelous job. The writing is descriptive and evocative. I tend to enjoy writing of an earlier time period, and this book is right up my alley. For example, I can easily picture this scene:

“The little bells on the harnesses of their horses jingled softly, incessantly moved by the restlessness of the shivering animals. The days resembled one another like snowflakes. The officers of the lancer regiment were waiting for some extraordinary event to break the monotony of their days. No one knew what kind of event it might be. But this winter seemed to be concealing some kind of dreadful surprise in its jingling bosom. And one day it erupted from the winter like red lightning from white snow.”

When Herr von Trotta starts to become disillusioned with the Empire, he decides to visit his son, and it is easy for me to feel the sense of sadness and foreboding he feels at the loss of its former glory:

“The district captain had been cheerful and exuberant when he had ridden into an adventuresome region and to his dear son. Now he was returning home, alone, from a lonesome son and from this borderland, where the collapse of the world could already be seen as clearly as one sees a thunderstorm on the edge of a city, whose streets lie still unaware and blissful under a blue sky.”

It is not a cheery book. The world is on the precipice of the Great War. Joseph Roth (1894-1939) comments on the significant changes in the value of life that came with the massive slaughter:

“BACK THEN, BEFORE the Great War, when the incidents reported on these pages took place, it was not yet a matter of indifference whether a person lived or died. If a life was snuffed out from the host of the living, another life did not instantly replace it and make people forget the deceased. Instead, a gap remained where he had been, and both the near and distant witnesses of his demise fell silent whenever they saw this gap.”

This book will appeal to history buffs. I always enjoy reading fictional portrayals of historic events by people who lived through them. It brings to me an authentic sense of what life was like back then. I enjoyed it very much and can see why it is considered a classic.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
The first thing I did before starting this book was go online and listen to the Vienna Philharmonic playing the Radetzky March. It was exactly the right background music for this turbulent tale of three generations of the Trotta family, part of the failing Austro-Hungarian Empire. Roth’s descriptions of these men and their lives was fascinating, the details exquisite.

The military and its draconian codes of honor were an everyday part of so many lives. Death was a harpy waiting in the wings always. But there was also the genuine devotion and friendship, particularly that exhibited by the servants, Jacques and Onufri, that served as a testimony to how much this society order meant to those who lived within it.

“There were no bears or wolves in the border region. There was just the end of the world!” reflects the District Commissioner on visiting his son, Carl Joseph, at his outpost near the Russian border. It sums up the book in many ways. These people are all witnessing the end of their world, and it is rotting away slowly and painfully, but there are no obvious predators that they can fight off to save it.

The book is about the end of a way of life, but it is also about the end of a family and the uneasy love of a father and son, in fact of several generations of fathers and sons, who do not truly understand one another. It has the heaviness of a Doctor Zhivago, and that same sense of larger world events overwhelming people and sweeping them along until they disappear into the masses of an unfortunate humanity.

”Yes, it even looks as if God doesn’t want to be responsible for the world anymore. It was easier then! Every stone was in its place. The roads of life were properly paved. There were stout roofs on the walls of the houses. Whereas today, District Commissioner, today the stones are lying all over the roads, and in dangerous heaps some of them, and the roofs are full of holes, and the rain falls into the houses, and it is up to the individual what road he walks, and what house he lives in.”

The world has proceeded from one of order and certainty to one of chaos and questions, and few of those who have position in this society know how to deal with what they are facing. Even the young are bemused and frightened.

I admit to knowing very little of life before World War I in the Austrian Empire. I have always wondered why the assassination of one member of the royal family sparked so much carnage and bloodshed. This book has helped me to see all the pieces of the puzzle and that the assassination itself was just a match set to a fuse that was ready and waiting.

This is a brilliant piece of writing, and while it starts a bit slow, if you slow your mind down to match its pace, it is a worthy endeavor. I can see why it is regarded as a modern classic--it is going to outlast some of its more popular contemporaries.
( )
1 vote mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (43 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roth, JosephAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kent, CharlesTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brodersen, KarlTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Charles, KentTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cortesia, SaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dunlop, GeoffreyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dyer, PeterCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foà, LucianoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fučíková, JitkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hofmann, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manacorda, GiorgioIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Neugroschel, JoachimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peromies, AarnoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salter, GeorgCover designersecondary 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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The Radetzky March, Joseph Roth's classic saga of the privileged von Trotta family, encompasses the entire social fabric of the Austro-Hungarian Empire just before World War I. The author's greatest achievement, The Radetzky March is an unparalleled portrait of a civilization in decline, and as such a universal story for our times.

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