Descriptions The Collected Stories of Joseph Roth
‘The Collected Stories of Joseph Roth’ is a remarkable literary achievement. Collected in English for the first time, these seventeen stories and novellas, perhaps more than any other work of fiction by Roth (1894-1939), echo the intensity of his greatest novel, The Radetzky March. Spanning Roth’s entire career, and including several stories that have only recently come to light in Germany, this collection is a display of Roth’s range and virtuosity. Born to a Jewish family in Galicia, Roth arrived in Vienna, the cosmopolitan capital of the then rapidly disintegrating Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1913, where he began writing professionally. Though he returned only for sporadic visits to his birthplace, Brody, Roth remained deeply influenced by the haunting melodies of his provincial homeland. This contrast of rural and urban themes imbues his fiction with a distinctive tension that is reflective of an entire generation of European writers. Many of the stories collected here portray life in the crucible of a chaotic Central Europe ravaged by war and poverty, nationalism and hatred. Roth’s Europe pulses with the vitality of the tumultuous years in between the wars, and his stories sensitively trace the trajectory of his characters’ lives as they are overwhelmed by history and personal tragedy. Among the newly translated works assembled here are early, experimental works of fiction punctuated by a lyrical sadness that reflect the Roth oeuvre as a whole, as well as several longer works that represent major turning points. Particularly noteworthy is ‘Strawberries,’ which comprises the early chapters of a novel Roth would never complete, in which he depicts scenes from Brody – a mad little Jewish village given over to mild criminality – not with his typically satirical eye, but with a mournful gaze toward the past. This remarkable piece is followed by several works that rank among Roth’s finest, including ‘The Triumph of Beauty,’ an elegiac tale of love and loss, ‘The Bust of the Emperor,’ which explores the effects of war and international strife on one man’s life, and ‘Stationmaster Fallmerayer,’ a riveting, tragic love story about an exotic aristocratic woman and a lowly stationmaster, which carries Tolstoyan themes well into the twentieth century. Roth’s novels are widely known for their jarring movement, their sheer velocity, and their unpredictable endings that leave readers often feeling that they’ve been stabbed with a knife. His stories amplify these remarkable talents and reveal his indisputable literary genius. Against the background of a chaotic post-World War I Europe, these stories represent with condensed power the seemingly minuscule catastrophes that ultimately overthrow characters’ lives. In their variety and their force, they reflect an enduring and tragic sensibility that stands alone in the annals of twentieth-century fiction.