Half Human

Joseph_roth_013112_620pxAdam Kirsch in Tablet Magazine:

The rediscovery of Joseph Roth has been one of the happiest literary developments of the last 10 years—perhaps the first time that the word “happy” could be used in the same sentence as Roth’s name. Roth, born in the town of Brody in Austrian Galicia in 1894, was one of the best-known journalists in 1920s Germany, a master of the impressionistic personal essay known as the feuilleton. With the 1932 publication of The Radetzky March, his novel about the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he joined the first rank of fiction writers as well.

Within a year, however, the Nazis took power in Germany, making it impossible for Roth, or any German Jewish writer, to live and work in the country. Roth spent the next five years living hand-to-mouth in France, cranking out short novels at a terrific pace in an increasingly hopeless attempt to support himself. He died in 1939, a victim of alcoholism and of history, at the age of just 45—though to judge by photographs of his booze-ravaged face, he already looked like an elderly man. As it turned out, this premature death came just in time, for if Roth had still been living in France after the German conquest in 1940, he would surely have been sent to a concentration camp.

Several of Roth’s books were published in the United States in the 1920s and ’30s, but after his death his reputation nearly vanished here.

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