Tuesday, 21 August 2012

THE RADETZKY MARCH by Joseph Roth (trans. Joachim Neugroschel)

In the Introduction, Roth’s work is discussed thus:
. . . his pervasive theme, the relation of the individual to the state. He says his characters are not “intended to exemplify a political point of view – at most it (a life story) demonstrates the old and eternal truth that the individual is always defeated in the end.
Sounds right up my alley. Also, many people have recommended this book to me. Thus I am disappointed to be disappointed.

The book tells the story of a young man from a military family, whose own career is less than illustrious. It’s less than illustrious in large part because he keeps making bad decision, barely thought out, and acting as if some sort of automaton, not thinking about his actions. One cmes across these sorts of characters all the time in serious twentieth century fiction, and I strongly suspect this is supposed to be some sort of comment on the human condition. However I just find it annoying. I want to give him a slap and tell him to take some responsibility for his life. His father’s story is interwoven with his, and is the most touching part of the tale. His butler, who he rarely speaks to but has been with him for forty years, dies, and the grim and authoritatian man begins to unravel

Some parts of the novel are beautiful, as here:
. . feeding the swans, trimming the hedges, guarding the springtime forstyhias and then the elderberry bushes against unauthorized, thievish hands, and, in the mild nights, shooing homeless lovers from the benevolent darkness of benches.
And some parts very funny:
He thought about his mother: her life was one long frantic search for some kind of extra income.
And sometimes dodgy/gross. Here is an older woman feeling motherly towards her young lover:
. . . as if her womb had birthed him, the same womb that now received him
I wonder if some of my trouble comes from the translation. We had “luscious clods of soil,” which worried me, but I could believe that might be right; then we had “spacious cups of tea,” which I very much doubt, then someone is the “spit n image” I mean surely someone with English as a first language works at Penguin and could have run their eye over it?

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