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The Radetzky March (1932)

by Joseph Roth

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,587684,685 (4.17)325
Strauss's Radetzky March,signature tune of one of Europe's most powerful regimes, presides over Joseph Roth's account of three generations of the Trotta family in the years preceding the Austro-Hungarian collapse in 1918. Grandfather, son and grandson are equally dependent on the empire- the first for his ennoblement; the second for the civil virtues that make him a meticulous servant of an administration whose failure he can neither comprehend nor survive; the third for the standards of family conduct which he cannot attain but against which he is too enfeebled to rebel… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
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.
( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
An excellent time-period piece that covers the years 1860-1914. It chronicles 3 generations of the Trotta family (Austria) and also the Hapsburg Empire. Both are "old" and crumbling; neither can survive in the "new world." A very good piece of writing, but also very depressing. 355 pages 4.5 stars. I knocked 1/2 star off because the first chapter was very confusing! ( )
  Tess_W | Sep 24, 2021 |
This is a remarkable book, published in 1932, translated from the German. I got bogged down in it a couple times but that reflects more on me than on this deeply felt and beautifully written story. Very briefly, it tells the story of the Von Trotta family, the lives of three generations of men who served the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. They and the emperor preside at the fall of the Habsburg empire and the change of the world that came in its wake; first and most dire being the start of World War I.

What I found so compelling was the way Roth captured the fading empire, the way the symbols and trappings, especially military, lost their lustre and meaning and power to motivate. A podcast I listened to about the book noted that the dying of old regime and all the ways of living that were stabilized by it led to something much worse in the nationalism(s) that succeeded it. But although that is an interesting idea, I think the author was critical of the empire--for its superficiality, it's tamping down of human expressiveness in the name of form, hierarchy, and authority. (Part of the argument is that Roth, a Jew, was a successful journalist in the Germany that existed prior to WW2; that nationalism swept away the possibility of diverse peoples living together under one rule. Maybe. I don't know.)

Some of the writing, in translation by Joachim Neugroschel, is so beautiful and odd. There are piles of adjectives, and descriptions that evoke a Picasso cubist portrait. The English is therefore slightly off, yet enhanced too.

Here are a couple samples:

In those days there were a lot of men like Kapturak on the borders of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. They began to circle around the old empire like those black cowardly birds that ogle a dying man from infinitely far away. Dark and impatient, beating their wings, they wait for his end. Their slanting beaks jab into their prey. No one knows where they come from or where they fly off to. They are the feathered brethren of enigmatic Death; they are his harbingers, his escorts, and his successors. (Ch. 12, p. 172)

That was a stern time, as we know. But it recognized exceptions and even liked them. It was one of the rare aristocratic principles, such as that mere commoners were second-class human beings yet certain middle-class officers became personal adjutants to the Kaiser; that Jews could claim no higher distinctions yet certain Jews were knighted and became friends with archdukes; that women had to observe a traditional morality yet certain women could philander like a cavalry officer. (Those were principles that would be labeled "hypocritical" today because we are so much more relentless: relentless, honest, and humorless.) (Ch. 13, p. 187)

Outside, among the lower ranks, Herr von Trotta waited, the son of the Hero of Solferino, holding his hat, in the persistently trickling rain. The trees in Schönbrunn Park signed and soughed; the rain whipped them, gentle, patient, lavish. The evening came. Curiosity-seekers came. The park filled up. The rain wouldn't stop. The onlookers spelled one another; they came, they went. Herr von Trotta remained. The night set in, the steps were empty, the people went home to bed. Herr von Trotta pressed against the gate. He heard carriages draw up; sometimes a window was unlatched over his head. Voices called. The gate was opened, the gate was closed. He was not seen. The rain trickled, gentle, relentless; the trees soughed and sighed. (Vigil at the death of the Kaiser, Epilogue, p. 329-330)

The Great Books of Literature Podcast
The Institute of Public Affairs, Episode 8 is about The Radetzky March. ( )
  jdukuray | Jun 23, 2021 |
"They had been born in peacetime and became officers in peaceful drills and maneuvers. They had no idea that several years later every last one of them, with no exception, would encounter death. Their ears were not sharp enough to catch the whirring gears of the great hidden mills that were already grinding out the Great War."

In this 1001 novel, the decline of the Trotta family parallels the decline of the Hapsburg Empire. Carl Joseph's grandfather, Joseph Trotta, saved the life of the emperor at the Battle of Solferino, and for that deed was awarded a baronacy. His father Franz, son of the hero of Solferino, was a government official, leading a staid and emotionally repressed life under the portrait of the Hero of Solferino. Most of the book focuses on Carl Joseph, who joins the army and dreams of saving the Emperor as did his grandfather. Instead, he ends up on a remote frontier outpost, where women, drink and gambling do him in. Over the years as various crises occur in the Trotta family, the Emperor is able to help them out.

There's some beautiful writing her, and Roth skillfully paints his characters. But he does so from a distance, and the characters are all so emotionally stunted, that I found it difficult to connect with the them and their plight. As a portrait about the loss of tradition and order, about a crumbling empire, it succeeds, but I had a hard time sympathizing with any character. They were all far away in another world.

Nevertheless, I don't regret reading this. I feel "improved" by having read it. I've read one other book by Roth Job, and would read more.

3 1/2 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Apr 19, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (44 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roth, JosephAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brodersen, KarlMedarb.secondary 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
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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Strauss's Radetzky March,signature tune of one of Europe's most powerful regimes, presides over Joseph Roth's account of three generations of the Trotta family in the years preceding the Austro-Hungarian collapse in 1918. Grandfather, son and grandson are equally dependent on the empire- the first for his ennoblement; the second for the civil virtues that make him a meticulous servant of an administration whose failure he can neither comprehend nor survive; the third for the standards of family conduct which he cannot attain but against which he is too enfeebled to rebel

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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