Category: Austria Page 1 of 3

Joseph Roth: Die Kapuzinergruft (The Emperor’s Tomb)

The latest addition to my website is Joseph Roth‘s Die Kapuzinergruft (The Emperor’s Tomb). This was the last novel he published in his lifetime, when he was living in exile, after the Nazis had annexed Austria. He died the following year. It is a sad and gloomy tale focussing on Franz Ferdinand Trotta, cousin of the hero of Radetzkymarsch (The Radetzky March). Trotta is so taken with his Slovenian cousin and friend that he escapes from his man about town life in Vienna to visit them. War (WWI) is declared while he is there. Instead of joining his Vienna regiment, he gets a transfer to his cousin’s regiment and is almost immediately taken prisoner, returning to a defeated Vienna, where everyone is broke. And then the Nazis take over. It is the end of an era.

Joseph Roth: Die Geschichte der 1002. Nacht (The String of Pearls; The Tale of the 1002nd Night)

The latest addition to my website is Joseph Roth‘s Die Geschichte der 1002. Nacht (The String of Pearls; The Tale of the 1002nd Night). This is another excellent novel by Roth, focussing on three characters whose life all takes a turn for the worse, particularly as a result of the visit of the Shah of Persia to Vienna in 1873. The Shah wants a particular Austrian countess to sleep with and in order to placate him and preserve her, Baron Taittinger comes up with a look-alike, Mizzi, one of his former flings. The Shah is not too happy but Mizzi is rewarded with a string of pearls. As in other novels, by Roth and others, the pearls bring bad luck for the Baron and Mizzi as well as the owner of the brothel where Mizzi works. We gradually follow the downfall of all three, as a combination of bad luck and trying and failing to function outside of their normal sphere of activity, leads them to disaster. The novel is superbly well told and must rate as one of Roth’s finest.

Joseph Roth: Die hundert Tage (The Ballad of the Hundred; later: The Hundred Days)

The latest addition to my website is Joseph Roth‘s Die hundert Tage (The Ballad of the Hundred; later: The Hundred Days). This novel tells the story of Napoleon’s hundred days. i.e. from when he fled Elba to his defeat at Waterloo and surrender to the British. The book was criticised when it first appeared in Britain as it is relatively sympathetic to Napoleon. As well as following Napoleon – his loneliness and his hubris – we also follow the story of Angelina Pietri, a Corsican laundrywoman in the Tuileries, Napoleon’s palace, who, though receiving and rejecting two marriage proposal and having a son by one of the men, adores only one man, Napoleon Bonaparte, remaining faithful to him to the end. Roth tells his story well and while he is certainly fairly sympathetic towards Napoleon he can also see his faults.

Joseph Roth: Hiob (Job, the Story of a Simple Man)

The latest addition to my website is Joseph Roth‘s Hiob (Job, the Story of a Simple Man). This is a modern (late 19th/early20th century) updating of the story of the Biblical Job, whom God made suffer, in order to test him. Our Job is Mendel Singer, a Russian Jew, living in Zuchnow, a fictitious town in Tsarist Russia. He is married with four children. His youngest is handicapped. Things get worse when his two eldest sons are called up the army, with one fleeing and escaping to the US, and his daughter has a Cossack boyfriend. The son who escaped pays for his parents and sister to join him in the US and things start to look up, when more afflictions fall on Mendel and he ends up wanting to burn God. He eventually adapts and moves on but he does have his fair share of suffering.

Katja Perat: Mazohistka (The Masochist)

The latest addition to my website is Katja Perat‘s Mazohistka (The Masochist). The novel is narrated by Nadezhda von Moser. She was found as a baby, abandoned, in a basket by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the man whom Richard von Krafft-Ebing named masochism after. Sacher-Masoch brought her up but he was neither a good father or husband. She meets the rich Maximilian von Moser and they marry and move to Vienna, where she meets famous people such as Freud (from whom she has treatment), Klimt and Mahler. She is not particularly impressed with any of them or, indeed, with her husband, ending up in Trieste where she meets Rilke and Joyce. It is a very clever,feminist novel, witty and cynical but also serious about sexism and the role of women and what we know to be the final period of the Hapsburg empire.

Joseph Roth: Radetzkymarsch (The Radetzky March)

The latest addition to my website is Joseph Roth‘s Radetzkymarsch (The Radetzky March). This is a superb novel, following the downfall of Austria from its defeat at the Battle of Solferino in 1859 to the death of Emperor Franz Joseph I, who led his troops at Solferino, and who lived till 1916. Along with the downfall of Austria, we follow the rise and downfall of the Trotta family. Lieutenant Joseph Trotta is known as the Hero of Solferino, as he saved Franz Joseph’s life and is amply rewarded. He, his son and his grandson benefit from this, all three meeting the Emperor, but Carl Joseph, the grandson, even with these advantages, like his country, gradually slides down the slope and for all three – Austria, Carl Joseph and the Emperor – it does not end well.

Joseph Roth: Hotel Savoy (Hotel Savoy)

The latest addition to my website is Joseph Roth‘s Hotel Savoy (Hotel Savoy). It tells the story of Gabriel Dan who, in 1919, is returning from three years in a prisoner-of-war camp in Russia. The novel is set entirely in the now Polish town of Łódź which is facing something of an upheaval – loss of German population, numerous returning soldiers passing through and economic disruption. Gabriel stays at the Hotel Savoy, which becomes a microcosm for society, with the poor staying in cramped quarters on the upper floors and the rich enjoying themselves downstairs. We see the city and its problems though Gabriel’s eyes as he tries to survive. His rich uncle offers no help but he manages to earn some money but is less successful with Stasia, the dancer who lives above him. However, a crisis is building up, caused particularly by labour agitation and the wise seek to move on. Roth tells the story very well as we get a wonderful portrait of post-World War I Eastern Europe through Gabriel’s eyes.

Robert Menasse: Die Hauptstadt (Capital)

The latest addition to my website is Robert Menasse‘s Die Hauptstadt (Capital). This is a satire on the European Union, its officials and some of the nationalities who are part of it. The story starts in Place Sainte-Cathérine, in the centre of Brussels, where most of the main characters are to be found at the beginning of the book, including two senior EU officials having an affair, an Auschwitz survivor, a hitman who has just killed someone, an Austrian visiting professor and a pig who seems to be wandering round the square. We follow their stories but the two main themes are (the lack of) EU pig policy and an attempt by the Commission to exploit Auschwitz for a jubilee to promote the Commission. Many of the stories merge while many take unexpected and, in some cases, not very pleasant turns. Menasse has fun mocking EU officials and various nationalities while raising the issue of nationalism vs supranationalism.

Heinrich Eggerth: Die Papierrose [The Paper Rose]

The latest addition to my website is Heinrich Eggerth‘s Die Papierrose [The Paper Rose]. It is narrated by a man whose almost ten year old daughter has died of a brain tumour. He visits her grave almost every day and talks to her, over a period of many years. The books is his (obviously one-sided) conversations with her. We learn about how she died, the two operations she had and her cheerful, chatty nature. We also learn about how bitter he is that she had to die before her time and how he feels guilty – was the tumour caused when she fell off him, when playing, or was God punishing him for not quitting his smoking habit? He tells her of his life and the life of their family (he has a wife and another daughter, though they are barely mentioned) and imagines her growing up and having a family of her own. It is a sad book but not mawkish or overly sentimental. Apart from a few poems, none of Heggerth’s work has been translated into English or any other language.

Christoph Ransmayr: Cox oder Der Lauf der Zeit [Cox or the Course of Time]

The latest addition to my website is Christoph Ransmayr‘s Cox oder Der Lauf der Zeit [Cox or the Course of Time]. The hero of this book is Alister Cox, based on the very real James Cox. Unlike James Cox, Alister Cox travels to China to build clocks for the Chinese Emperor Qianlong. Qianlong is not particularly interested in the clocks and automata that they bring with them but wants a clock that can tell variable time – the time of a child or a lover or a man condemned to death. They work on those clocks and make some progress but the Emperor still seems less than impressed. Then the Emperor says he wants an eternal clock – a clock that works eternally. Cox feels he cam make such a clock but he is warned by Joseph Kiang, his interpreter, that to do so would be to challenge the Emperor, who has sole control of time, and to challenge the Emperor can only end one way – badly. I found this book less interesting than Ransmayr’s other work as it did not seem to really take off but was almost mundane, despite its exotic location and fascinating theme. It has been translated into four other languages but not English.

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