Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Job by Joseph Roth (1930, translated by Ross Benjamin)

I offer my great thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Card that enabled  me to read this book.

Job - The Story of a Simple Man is the ninth book by Joseph Roth (1894 to 1939) I have so far read.  My goal is to read all his translated available as a Kindle works.  Sadly about six of his novels that I have not yet read that were just a couple of months ago available as Kindles are no longer on Amazon and the print editions are listed as temporarily out of stock with no idea when they will be available.  I don't know if this is from a publisher dispute with Amazon or if the publishers no longer have them in print.  I know I wished when I saw this that I had already acquired the unread Roth books on Kindle.  With the reading of the very powerful Job, I have now  read, hopefully just a temporary issue, all the works by Roth available in English as a Kindle edition.  

While reading Roth I have also been reading a bit of Yiddish literature, primarily  in the wonderful Yale Yiddish Library Collection.  It struck me as I read Job that it seemed more like Yiddish literature than any of his other works.  Inspired by the biblical character of great suffering Job, Mendel Singer, the lead character undergoes incredible loss and suffering, loses his faith in God and at last regains the wisdom to partially understand why God mad him suffer so much. 

Mendel Singer lives with his wife, his daughter Mariam and his two sons.  His wife gives birth to another son who has severe learning disabilities.  Mendel makes a modest living as a teacher.  Roth does a marvelous job of letting us see how the struggle to survive.  It is also a portrait of a marriage. We see how the birth of the new son puts a terrible strain on everyone in the family.  He causes conflict within the marriage.  His daughter Mariam becomes promiscuous, going so far as to sleep with the dreaded vehicle of Tsarist oppression, a Cossack, to her parent's great shame.  One of their two sons is drafted into the Russian army, almost tantamount to a death sentence for a Jew.  The other finds the means to move to New York City where his letters tell of his growing prosperity.  At about midpoint in the novel an American friend of their son, there on a business matter, tells them that their son is working on bringing the whole family to America.  The big issue is the handicapped son.  American authorities will not let him in the country.  The Singers at great anguish make arrangements to leave him with a couple, giving them their house in exchange for care of the son.

Now we begin a classic tale of immigration.  The ship passage is wonderfully told and the arrival in America and the reunion with their now married to an American woman son is very moving.  At first everything is wonderful then one terrible thing after another begins to happen.  Mendel is thrown into such despair that he curses God.  He descends further and deeper into despair and indifference to life until something completely miraculous happens.

The translator Ross Benjamin states that  Job is the second best work by Roth, after his acknowledged by all master work, The Radetzky March.

Joseph Roth is a person of great wisdom.  I wish he would have immigrated to New York City and given the world a novel a year for a long time.  

Mel u


James said...

I also enjoyed this novel. I found his language demonstrated both allegorical and biblical directness when I read it several years ago. Your reference to Yiddish literature suggests an avenue that I did not explore but would have enriched my reading as it has yours. This is certainly one of the best of Roth's novels that I have read though I have yet to be disappointed with his writing. My favorite, The Radetzky March, is among the best historical novels that I have read.

Mytwostotinki said...

Great review, as usual. I had the same feeling - this book reminded of some Yiddish authors like Scholem Alejchem. My own review:

Mel u said...

James. Thanks for your comment. I always love anything by Roth.

Mel u said...

Mytwostotinki. This to me is his most Yiddish tradition work. Thanks very much for your comment