What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933

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Overview

"[Joseph Roth] is now recognized as one of the twentieth century's great writers."—Anthony Heilbut, Los Angeles Times Book Review
The Joseph Roth revival has finally gone mainstream with the thunderous reception for What I Saw, a book that has become a classic with five hardcover printings. Glowingly reviewed, What I Saw introduces a new generation to the genius of this tortured author with its "nonstop brilliance, irresistible charm and continuing relevance" (Jeffrey Eugenides, New York Times Book Review). As if anticipating Christopher Isherwood, the book re-creates the tragicomic world of 1920s Berlin as seen by its greatest journalistic eyewitness. In 1920, Joseph Roth, the most renowned German correspondent of his age, arrived in Berlin, the capital of the Weimar Republic. He produced a series of impressionistic and political essays that influenced an entire generation of writers, including Thomas Mann and the young Christopher Isherwood. Translated and collected here for the first time, these pieces record the violent social and political paroxysms that constantly threatened to undo the fragile democracy that was the Weimar Republic. Roth, like no other German writer of his time, ventured beyond Berlin's official veneer to the heart of the city, chronicling the lives of its forgotten inhabitants: the war cripples, the Jewish immigrants from the Pale, the criminals, the bathhouse denizens, and the nameless dead who filled the morgues. Warning early on of the dangers posed by the Nazis, Roth evoked a landscape of moral bankruptcy and debauched beauty—a memorable portrait of a city and a time of commingled hope and chaos. What I Saw, like no other existing work, records the violent social and political paroxysms that compromised and ultimately destroyed the precarious democracy that was the Weimar Republic.

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Editorial Reviews

Joseph Brodsky
“There is a poem on every page of Joseph Roth.”
Jeffrey Eugenides - New York Times Book Review
“Nonstop brilliance, irresistible charm and continuing relevance.”
Thane Rosenbaum - Washington Post Book World
“A singular achievement of both journalism and literature, a travel guide composed by a...poet who captured a city at its most cosmopolitan—and on the brink of collapse.”
New York Times Book Review
Nonstop brilliance, irresistible charm and continuing relevance.— Jeffrey Eugenides
Washington Post Book World
A singular achievement of both journalism and literature, a travel guide composed by a...poet who captured a city at its most cosmopolitan—and on the brink of collapse.— Thane Rosenbaum
Kirkus Reviews
Evocative pieces about life in interbellum Berlin by a Jewish journalist and fiction writer (The Collected Stories of Joseph Roth, 2002, etc.). Roth (1894-1939) wrote in lyrical prose, genially leftist but pointed and candid as well. This is the first collection of his journalism in English, a beautiful translation from the German, and after finishing these 34 pieces, readers will yearn for more. Roth’s bright eye roams across Berlin, settling on both the obscure and the patent. He excels at the former, noting "It’s only the minutiae of life that are important." He wanders the streets where impoverished refugees live. He haunts the "dives" and nightclubs, mingles with those society has forgotten. "All state officials," he declares, "should be required to spend a month serving in a homeless shelter to learn love." He ponders the effects of mass transportation, expatiates on the wonders of department stores, marvels at Berlin’s first skyscraper. "Strong and safe in its assembly," he says of this towering building, "it matches a natural mountain for strength." He is puzzled by the German fascination for wax museums, comments wryly that participants in the six-day bike races don’t really ever get anywhere, and in perhaps the wriest piece he writes about a cinema as if it were a church. At times his sentences are perfect, near poetry in syntax and diction: of a card game, he remarks, "On the table the grimy bits of cardboard make a noise like muffled slaps." He has no respect for politicians and wishes that they were as impressive as the buildings they worked in. The only piece that deals directly with fascism is the final one. In slashing prose he writes of the Nazis’ "crazy assaults on theintellect" and condemns Europe for its sloth, weakness, apathy, and ready capitulation to cruelty. Poignant and prescient. (35 b&w photos)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393325829
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/19/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 227
  • Sales rank: 644,739
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.60 (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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