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Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters

Overview

The monumentality of this biographical work further establishes Joseph Roth—with Kafka, Mann, and Musil—in the twentieth-century literary canon.Who would have thought that seventy-three years after Joseph Roth’s lonely death in Paris, new editions of his translations would be appearing regularly? Roth, a transcendent novelist who also produced some of the most breathtakingly lyrical journalism ever written, is now being discovered by a new generation. Nine years in the making, this life through letters provides ...

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Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters

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Overview

The monumentality of this biographical work further establishes Joseph Roth—with Kafka, Mann, and Musil—in the twentieth-century literary canon.Who would have thought that seventy-three years after Joseph Roth’s lonely death in Paris, new editions of his translations would be appearing regularly? Roth, a transcendent novelist who also produced some of the most breathtakingly lyrical journalism ever written, is now being discovered by a new generation. Nine years in the making, this life through letters provides us with our most extensive portrait of Roth’s calamitous life—his father’s madness, his wife’s schizophrenia, his parade of mistresses (each more exotic than the next), and his classic westward journey from a virtual Hapsburg shtetl to Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt, and finally Paris.Containing 457 newly translated letters, along with eloquent introductions that richly frame Roth’s life, this book brilliantly evokes the crumbling specters of the Weimar Republic and 1930s France. Displaying Roth’s ceaselessly inventive powers, it finally charts his descent into despair at a time when “the word had died, [and] men bark like dogs.”

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Prolific, peripatetic, prickly, and best known in his time as a journalist, Joseph Roth (1894–1939) has since taken his place beside Thomas Mann (whom he loathed), Robert Musil (whom he disliked almost as much), and Alfred Döblin among the giants of 20th-century German and Austrian literature. English readers will find a tormented, perennial fist-shaker in the more than 450 letters by Roth, from 1911 to 1939 (a few addressed to him), skillfully translated and nimbly edited by Hofmann, and previously only available in a 40-year-old German-language collection. Though at times gossipy, with opinions on everyone from Thomas Mann to Austrian publishers and his own Jewish background, Roth reveals himself detesting Hitlerism early and to such a degree that from the dawn of 1933 he left Germany permanently. To his good friend and fellow writer Stefan Zweig, the recipient of many of the letters, Roth wrote, “The barbarians have taken over. Do not deceive yourself. Hell reigns.” Roth was also no fan of Soviet communism. Alcohol addiction left Roth (The Radetzky March) in increasing desperation. Perhaps fittingly, Roth died at the edge of the world calamity he had projected. (Jan.)
Commentary Magazine
Hofmann... makes a worthy Virgil through the inferno on display in these pages... Part of the pleasure of reading Joseph Roth—the novels, stories, journalism, letters all—lies in his synthesis of an easily acquired street sapience with a hard-won erudition. He has a 19th-century aesthetic molested by 20th-century crimes, a dignified formalism perverted by an absurdist undertow. Modernity for Roth is a hideous prank played on us by the angel of history.— William Giraldi
Boston Review
Reading Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters is like sitting across a café table from Roth himself... No standard biography of Roth exists in English, but this collection of his letters, superbly translated and judiciously edited by long-time Roth advocate Michael Hofmann, provides a more intimate portrait than any biography could.— Roger Boylan
William Giraldi - Commentary Magazine
“Hofmann... makes a worthy Virgil through the inferno on display in these pages... Part of the pleasure of reading Joseph Roth—the novels, stories, journalism, letters all—lies in his synthesis of an easily acquired street sapience with a hard-won erudition. He has a 19th-century aesthetic molested by 20th-century crimes, a dignified formalism perverted by an absurdist undertow. Modernity for Roth is a hideous prank played on us by the angel of history.”
Roger Boylan - Boston Review
“Reading Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters is like sitting across a café table from Roth himself... No standard biography of Roth exists in English, but this collection of his letters, superbly translated and judiciously edited by long-time Roth advocate Michael Hofmann, provides a more intimate portrait than any biography could.”
Kirkus Reviews
The doomed world of interwar Europe comes to burning life in the anguished correspondence of the peripatetic Austrian novelist/journalist. Roth (1894–1939) was one of the best-known, highest-paid journalists writing in German during the 1920s and '30s. He was also a superb novelist, a terrible drunk, an implacable enemy and an impossible friend, qualities that all leap off the pages of this collection. Perfectly translated by poet Hofmann (who should have left the footnotes to someone with a more systematic mind), Roth's manic letters chronicle a life led from café table to hotel room to train station, scribbling articles for the Frankfurter Zeitung in between the series of novels that made his reputation. The pace was unsustainable, as were Roth's finances. He was forever borrowing against advances and begging for money from better-heeled friends like the long-suffering Stefan Zweig, a more successful author who had--they both knew--less talent than Roth. It remains a mystery how the disorderly Roth found time to toss off these letters of coruscating brilliance, featuring trenchant, prescient analyses of the Nazi threat at a time when most of his fellow Jewish intellectuals were hoping it would blow over in a few years. A staunch Austrian monarchist who despised communists almost as much as fascists, Roth cut all ties with Germany immediately after the Nazis took power and scathingly criticized anyone, especially anyone Jewish, who tried to compromise with the regime. His correspondence in later years is almost unbearable to read, as he sunk deeper into alcoholism and despair, but his zest for language and his total commitment to literature glow through even the most crazed rantings. It's easy to understand his agony when we read via his letters of an entire humane, cosmopolitan culture being murdered, as Jewish and antifascist writers saw their publications banned, their royalties confiscated and their lives threatened. A quintessential depiction of one man's view from the brink of the abyss.
Larry Rohter
One of the many merits of Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters is that it helps fill in some of the blanks in the troubled and abbreviated life led by Roth, who was born in the northeastern corner of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1894 and died in poverty in Paris in 1939. Equally to its credit, though, the book also provides an absorbing portrait of the political and intellectual currents that shaped European literary life between the world wars and Roth's often prescient assessment of what was going on around him.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393060645
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/16/2012
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 2.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph Roth (1894-1939) has been admired by J. M. Coetzee, Cathleen Schine, Jeffrey Eugenides, Joseph Brodsky, and Nadine Gordimer, among others. His noted works include The Radetzky March, The Legend of the Holy Drinker, The Leviathan (his final work, published posthumously after Roth’s untimely death at the age of 44) and the anthology The Collected Stories of Joseph Roth.

For his translations, acclaimed poet Michael Hofmann has won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the Dublin International IMPAC Award, the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize, the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize, the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize, and The Schlegel-Tieck Prize (four times). He is the highly acclaimed translator of, among others, Kafka, Brecht, and Joseph Roth.

For his translations, acclaimed poet Michael Hofmann has won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the Dublin International IMPAC Award, the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize, the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize, the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize, and The Schlegel-Tieck Prize (four times). He is the highly acclaimed translator of, among others, Kafka, Brecht, and Joseph Roth.

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